Rassie Erasmus launches attack on referee in extraordinary hour-long video and offers to step away from Lions series

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·9-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Rassie Erasmus offers to step away from Lions series in remarkable hour-long video analysing refereeing decisionse Erasmus offers to resign in remarkable hour-long video analysing Lions refereeing decisions - GETTY IMAGES
Rassie Erasmus offers to step away from Lions series in remarkable hour-long video analysing refereeing decisionse Erasmus offers to resign in remarkable hour-long video analysing Lions refereeing decisions - GETTY IMAGES

Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus offered to step down from the final two Tests matches against the Lions after launching an unprecedented attack on referee Nic Berry in an extraordinary hour-long video.

After an excoriating takedown of one their elite referees, World Rugby confirmed it will raise his outburst with the South African Rugby Union.

Erasmus would appear to have broken at least four of World Rugby’s disciplinary regulations, which is likely to bring a disrepute charge. Senior figures are understood to be aghast at what is seen a clear assault on the values of the sport and will want to send a strong message.

Erasmus was incandescent at Berry’s performance and the speed of the feedback that South Africa received from World Rugby as he compiled 26 clips of mistakes or inconsistencies that went against the Springboks in their 22-17 first-Test defeat. Most controversially, he alleges that Berry did not afford his World Cup-winning captain, Siya Kolisi, as he did to Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.

The video, which is apparently addressed to Joe Schmidt, World Rugby’s director of rugby and Joel Jutge, the head of match officials, but was leaked on to the internet. “We felt things didn’t benefit us on the field form staying quiet,” Erasmus said in reference to the pressure the Lions put on the officials in the build-up to the first Test.

Erasmus, who has been acting as water carrier during South Africa’s matches, almost dared World Rugby to punish him. “If this means we are going to get a fine, I will step away from the management team,” Erasmus said. “If this means the Springboks will be in trouble, I will say I did this in isolation. It is me personally that did this, it is not SA Rugby, it is not the Springboks, because I believe in fairness. I believe two teams must have an equal chance of competing in a match.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

BIL1.mp4 from JJ on Vimeo.

“I’ve had previous encounters saying things in public about referees and it normally comes back to bite you, but the Lions only comes around every 12 years and it should be fair that I’ll step away from these last two Test matches, but let the two teams have an equal chance on the field when it comes to laws, respect, the way players are treated, what is said in the pre-match coaches’ meeting with referees, how they give feedback and are seen in the media.

“I am not saying the referee was a cheat at all. I am saying we just wanted clarity on a Sunday night which we have now got on a Tuesday. To be honest I am not very convinced with the clarity that we got from Nic Berry in this match.”

Erasmus clearly insinuates that the Lions successfully influenced the officiating of the first Test. Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, suggested that scrum half Faf de Klerk should have been sent off for a high tackle in the match against South Africa A. The Lions also criticised the appointment of Marius Jonker, a South African, as the television match official for the Test series after the original choice, Brendon Pickerill, pulled out.

“The narrative the Lions are trying to put out is that we don't know the laws, we're playing on power, and we don't respect the laws of the game,” Erasmus said. “We feel we got no joy with anything because we were quiet last week, and they were all over the media.”

On Monday, Erasmus posted a compilation of decisions that went against South Africa on Twitter with the strong suspicion that someone within the Springbok set-up had set up a burner account called Jaco Johan. He is particularly angry that the feedback was not delivered until Tuesday when the Springboks named their team for the second Test, although this is a standard wait time for World Rugby.

In one incident, he highlighted how Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe appeared to spear tackle Makazole Mapimpi, sarcastically saying, “if that's allowed just tell us, we would have loved to hear that on Sunday night, and we could have practiced that on Monday or Tuesday. According to me it's very dangerous.”

In perhaps his most serious accusation, Erasmus effectively accused Berry of being dismissive of Kolisi. “The way they listened to Siya compared to the way they listened to Alun Wyn was definitely not with the same respect,” Erasmus said. “There was a vast difference between who he was taking seriously and who he wasn’t taking seriously. Siya said at the meeting he would never talk to him [the referee] unless there was something that was really bothering him. It’s almost like he is having a laugh at Siya.”

Jones, the Lions captain, seemed slightly nonplussed by the suggestion he held greater sway over Berry. “In the heat of the moment it didn’t really feel as if we had any advantage because a lot of the time I was standing there next to Siya when we were speaking to the refs etc,” Jones said. “So that’s an outside perception that I probably can’t really comment on.”

A World Rugby statement said: “World Rugby notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus. The nature of these will be raised with the union via the usual channels and no further comment will be made at this stage.”

World Rugby must throw the book at Erasmus - otherwise it will be open season for their officials

by Gavin Mairs

World Rugby have been left with little choice but to throw the book at Rassie Erasmus.

He is not the first director of rugby to have been left frustrated by decisions by match officials but his latest outburst, revealed in an hour-long video that emerged on social media on Thursday morning, was an unacceptable attack on the integrity and reputation of referee Nic Berry and his assistants.

Erasmus appears to adopt a King Lear position of being a man more sinned against than sinning and yet, while the footage is utterly compelling as he repeatedly questions, with 26 clips, incidents he claims went against South Africa in the first Test, the conclusion drawn is as equally unedifying.

The viewer is left with the impression that not only questions the ability and decision-making of Berry (Australia) and his two assistant referees Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) and Mathieu Raynal (France) but also leaves an over-arching suspicion that there is more than incompetency behind their decisions.

Erasmus on more than one occasion suggests his players were not shown the same respect as the Lions, including the treatment of his captain Siya Kolisi compared to that of Alun Wyn Jones.

He also suggested that Berry’s delay in providing feedback on Sunday, when he was told by the Australian that he was having an afternoon nap, had effectively disadvantaged his side’s preparations for the second Test as his World Cup-winning side would somehow not know how to adapt to the referee’s on-field interpretations on Saturday. It was not quite possible to discern when Erasmus was being sarcastic or serious, but there was little to laugh about.

Referee Nic Berry was the target of Erasmus' video - GETTY IMAGES
Referee Nic Berry was the target of Erasmus' video - GETTY IMAGES

There are official channels for these debates to take place and with this excoriating analysis in the public domain it has placed the match officials in an almost impossible position. One wonders what the Australian, New Zealand and French unions think about their officials facing this level of criticism from a sport that prides itself on the sanctity of the referee’s decisions.

And that applies equally to the television match official, Marius Jonker, who, as Erasmus points out, came under pressure from the Lions camp given Warren Gatland’s anger that a South African had been appointed to the job because of a last-minute change due to Covid travel restrictions.

If Erasmus is entitled to think Gatland was wrong to do so, the response has only served to intensify the spotlight on Jonker, who, it must be remembered is an employee of the same organisation as Erasmus.

Erasmus' defence of his position of his role as a ‘water-boy’ was unconvincing and petty, repeating his claim that he was entitled to do so as he was not the head coach.

The emergence of this video and the criticism is clearly part of a strategy to take the pressure off his players and himself for the manner of their defeat and in creating a media storm to turn the spotlight onto the Lions. But it has gone beyond the boundaries of traditional mind games.

It is not as if the Lions do not have form on this. I can remember sitting through a briefing session with Alistair Campbell in 2005, highlighting their outrage at the ‘spear-tackle’ by Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga that ended Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll’s tour just 41 seconds into the first Test.

The perception that it was a Machiavellian move from the former Downing Street spin doctor only played into the hands of the All Blacks. The Lions were in a more desperate position than the Springboks are in this series but Erasmus, like Campbell before him, has overplayed his hand and in the process the message has been lost.

In watching his video, it is hard to disagree with many of the points he makes about the incidents, but not the sense that they were an unfair result of any bias or lack of respect against his players.

What is clear is that the social-media circus has gone too far and World Rugby have to act to protect the reputation of their officials and the game. And can this really be helpful to his own players, never mind the status of the series, which is set up for a hell of a contest on Saturday?

Erasmus himself offered to walk away from the second and third Tests if by saying what he said gets South Africa in trouble. That suggests he knows he has gone too far.

If World Rugby do not act, then a dangerous precedent will have been set and it will be open season on referees.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting