South Africa mock Warren Gatland's 'dented ego' jibe as tempers hit boiling point before Lions first Test

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Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus - South Africa mock Warren Gatland's 'dented ego' jibe as tempers hit boiling point before Lions first Test - GETTY IMAGES
Warren Gatland and Rassie Erasmus - South Africa mock Warren Gatland's 'dented ego' jibe as tempers hit boiling point before Lions first Test - GETTY IMAGES

The Springboks promised to settle their war of words with the Lions on the pitch in Saturday's first Test as they mocked Lions boss Warren Gatland’s “dented ego” jibe.

The Lions on Friday ramped up pressure on the officials after the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as Television Match Official, while it was confirmed Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus would continue in his role as water boy in the Test series. Both episodes have proved to be flashpoints in a bad-tempered build-up to the series from rows over the scheduling of warm-up games to tit-for-tat exchanges between Gatland and Erasmus over high tackles.

Earlier this week, Gatland also claimed to have “dented the ego” of the Springboks by gaining the upper hand in the set-piece battle against South Africa ‘A’ last week. That statement drew short shrift from Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick who was happy to point to the 17-13 scoreline in South Africa’s favour.

“They’ve dented our ego?” Stick asked. “We were happy as Springbok team. Once again, the most important stat from that game was the final score. We won the game so I’m not too sure what it is that they dented. I’m not a mind-games person. The game is going to be played within the four lines.

“If [Gatland] is talking about egos, he doesn’t really know much about us as South Africans. Let’s wait and see after the game tomorrow. When it comes to the ego, we’ll see the egos between the four lines.”

Gatland also poked fun at Erasmus’ role as water carrier during the South Africa A match, pointing out that he frequently forgot to carry water with him on to the pitch. World Rugby have since confirmed that only the head coach is prohibited from carrying water on to the pitch, although they have instructed their officials to monitor his role.

“Rassie will be running the water again tomorrow,” Stick said. “That is his role now in the team, to assist Jacques Nienaber as head coach. He will be there and he will be running around, bringing water on to the field to the players. We as Springbok rugby are happy with that.”

Who is Marius Jonker, TMO for the Test series?

He was an international referee for 10 years from 2004 to 2014 and took charge of matches at the 2007 World Cup. He became a television match official and was the man in the box for the 2019 World Cup semi-final match between England and New Zealand.

Why is his appointment so controversial?

As a South African, he is a non-neutral official for the biggest rugby match of the year. His son even plays with several Springboks. The Lions were already feeling aggrieved about the refereeing decisions, especially the Faf de Klerk yellow card, in their 17-13 defeat to South Africa A and this appointment is fuelling their persecution complex.

Referee Marius Jonker of South Africa signals a scrum during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook on March 19, 2011 in Dunedin - GETTY IMAGES
Referee Marius Jonker of South Africa signals a scrum during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook on March 19, 2011 in Dunedin - GETTY IMAGES

How much power does a TMO have?

It is no exaggeration to say that a TMO’s intervention can shape a game’s outcome. It is their job to pick up what the on pitch officials miss and with the game being played at such a furious pace they can miss a lot. It was Jonker, for example, who called the De Klerk tackle being high. However, it is still the on pitch referee who has the final decision and against South Africa A it was Jaco Peyper who chose to give De Klerk a yellow card.

Has Jonker attracted controversy previously?

Even England supporters with short memories will probably remember that it was Jonker who as TMO helped to rule out Sam Underhill’s potential match-winning try against the All Blacks in 2018 for the most marginal of offsides against Courtney Lawes.

Why did World Rugby not have a contingency in place?

Local referees are the contingency. There were 35 international matches, including World Cup qualifiers, going on this summer across the summer. Ensuring they all have neutral referees is a logistical nightmare, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Had the Test series taken place a week later then Nic Berry and Ben O’Keefe, the Australia and New Zealand referees, would have been unable to travel to South Africa. Hence the contingency was always for local officials to come in. Telegraph Sport understands that Jaco Peyper and Wayne Barnes are also on the standby list if any of Berry, O’Keefe or Mathieu Raynal become unavailable.

Why could they not employ a TMO based in France or Australasia?

Great in theory, but less so in practice, particularly with four days notice from a Test match. No matter how bad the perception of Jonker being in the box that would be preferable to the feed being lost or hijacked between the officials in the Cape Town Stadium and a TMO thousands of miles away.

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