Lions urge Rassie Erasmus to use ‘proper channels’ after South African's ‘dangerous and reckless’ jibe

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South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus shouts instruction the his players during the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa - Shaun Roy/Focus Images Limited
South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus shouts instruction the his players during the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa - Shaun Roy/Focus Images Limited

Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus should take his complaints about refereeing through the “proper channels” rather than social media, according to Lions defence coach Steve Tandy.

Telegraph Sport understands that World Rugby has taken note of Erasmus’ bizarre outburst on Twitter about refereeing decisions that went against South Africa in the 22-17 first Test defeat on Saturday. Erasmus used his personal Twitter account to accuse Lions prop Mako Vunipola of “reckless and dangerous” actions. He also retweeted a compilation of other perceived injustices from what appeared to be an anonymous account.

In the build-up to the match, the Lions had voraciously objected to the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as the television match official. However, Tandy seemed unimpressed by Erasmus’ attempt to micro-analyse every call that went against South Africa.

“It’s a tough job and I know everyone moans around certain decisions,” Tandy said. “There’s always frustration, and we get it as coaches. But if you can keep that, because it is a tough job out there for the officials. If we can keep to the proper channels, I think that is probably the best way around that because it’s a tough job for the players, the coaches, and it’s definitely tough for the referees, too.

“We don’t want the games going on forever. It is the major calls you want to get right and spend the appropriate time on. It is hard for the officials, there is so much going on. People are saying Rassie is coming out and saying bits and pieces around the performances at the weekend but every team has got those moments.

“Every team can go through micro-details and analyse it. We do it ourselves but it is then going through the appropriate channels, raising the ones that are relevant and not making it about every small detail, just making sure every one of the major ones is correct. We thought the officials did a really good job at the weekend and if there's anything we need to bring up we'll go through the appropriate channels.”

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On Monday morning, capping a weekend of curious Twitter activity, Erasmus posted an annotated clip of Lions scrum-half Ali Price bumping into Kolbe, the South Africa wing, as the latter jumped to gather a second-half high ball. Vunipola then arrived on the scene and pulled Kolbe to his feet.

“Cheslin is obviously played in the air and clearly not direct into touch!!,” reads the post. “More importantly for youngsters watching this clip!!!! Please never move or touch an injured player on the ground, its reckless and dangerous!”

Using two emojis, Erasmus then seems to implore Vunipola to leave this to medical staff and tags in the official accounts of South Africa, the Lions and governing body, World Rugby. Vunipola on Monday seemed bemused by the incident.

“It’s the first time a coach has said something like that,” Vunipola said. “I remember trying to get the ball in but I saw that he’d gone down. I guess it’s one of those things, in the heat of the moment, you react how you would normally. He seemed to be alright, he played on in the game, so it wasn’t that reckless, was it?”

It followed a peculiar exchange between Erasmus and a Twitter account named ‘Jaco Johan’, with the handle @thenosyone987, on Sunday evening.

Erasmus had initially replied to the Lions’ official account after Saturday’s first Test, outlining that he had “no excuses” and that the victory was “well deserved”.

The ‘Jaco Johan’ account replied on Sunday saying: “Respect your attitude in defeat, but there were some questionable calls. I'll highlight a few.” An accompanying video detailed incidences such as Tom Curry’s late tackle on Faf de Klerk and Hamish Watson’s tip-tackle on Willie Le Roux.

Edited to include pauses with yellow circles highlighting the controversial moments, the video was in a very similar style to the one tweeted by Erasmus’ verified account, @RassieRugby. Eramus replied: “Thanks. This is rugby – sometimes the calls go for you and other times they don’t.”

‘Jaco Johan’ had only tweeted once previously, to publish a video highlighting two potential acts of foul play by Owen Farrell in the tour match between the Lions and South Africa A last week.

Set up in April 2016, the account did like a tweet from the official Munster Twitter account in November of that year, while Erasmus and South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber were working for the Irish province.

New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe, an assistant referee in Cape Town on Saturday, is due to take charge of the second Test this weekend.

Erasmus is highly competitive and successful but his David Brent schtick is beginning to wear thin

by Charlie Morgan

Rassie Erasmus - Rassie Erasmus hits out at Lions’ ‘dangerous and reckless’ tactics in latest Twitter outburst - GETTY IMAGES
Rassie Erasmus - Rassie Erasmus hits out at Lions’ ‘dangerous and reckless’ tactics in latest Twitter outburst - GETTY IMAGES

Rassie Erasmus has accumulated a mountain of positive PR over the past two years, but his David Brent-ish Twitter activity over the last few days is in danger of eroding some of the goodwill – if not in South Africa then certainly elsewhere.

Erasmus is clearly fond of being in control. During the row about his water-boy role last week, tales of his traffic-light system resurfaced. Those stories date back to his time coaching Free State in the early 2000s. Allegedly, the former back-rower would watch his players from the top of the stands and hold up different-coloured cones to inform them which set-moves they should run.

Chasing the Sun, the compelling behind-the-scenes documentary charting South Africa’s victory at Rugby World Cup 2019, paints a picture of Erasmus as a charismatic, diligent leader. Among many interviews, his voice ties everything together. Interestingly, he is listed in the credits as an executive producer.

There is definitely a streak of mischief about Erasmus, too, and his sense of humour is captured by Chasing the Sun. At one stage, he describes the close-knit nature of the Springboks squad by suggesting that “if Willie [le Roux] farts, I know what flavour it is.”

Plenty of devoted supporters have greeted his recent tweets about refereeing with amusement. Having guided the Springboks from the gutter to World Cup glory in the space of 18 months between 2018 and 2019, Erasmus has earned hero status. It seems that for many, anything he does will be heralded as genius and acknowledged with knowing nods as though everything is part of a greater plan.

This questioning of referees, both from his own @RassieRugby account and in peculiar dialogue with the mysterious ‘Jaco Johan’ at @thenosyone987, could also be viewed as desperate, unedifying and damaging to the sport – especially when interspersed with other tweets that are laced with a veneer of you-win-some-you-lose-some acceptance. Fake sanctimony is a real problem for rugby union, and this does not help.

More and more, discussion among fans and journalists in the aftermath of every game hinges upon one or two refereeing decisions. There are many reasons for this, ranging from more invasive technology to breakdown tactics. But it is an unhealthy and, frankly, tiresome trend that was hinted at by a Rugby Football Union judgment in June after Leicester Tigers captain Tom Youngs was found guilty of disrespecting the authority of Ian Tempest.

For a start, where are we going to find new referees if this is what they are subjected to? They need to be scrutinised, obviously. However, perspective is vital.

Erasmus is highly competitive. He wants to stick up for his players. He clearly feels as though any pressure he can exert on the team of three on-field officials – which comprises Nic Berry, Ben O’Keeffe and Mathieu Raynal and will remain the same throughout the Test series with Marius Jonker as TMO – can aid his team’s bid to overhaul the Lions and win 2-1.

There is a bigger picture here, though. And surely Erasmus could make it look better by not striving to manage factors he cannot control.

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