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Rugby: Springboks and Lions clash over first Test refereeing

Rugby: Springboks and Lions clash over first Test refereeing
South African Rugby Union (SARU) President Mark Alexander (L) and the Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus (R) on January 24 2020.   -  
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PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP or licensors

South Africa

South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has released a 62-minute video strongly criticising the refereeing in last Saturday's first Test against the British and Irish Lions.

The video, posted on online platform Vimeo, contains 36 clips which Erasmus claims show errors by Australian referee Nic Berry and other officials in the match won 22-17 by the Lions.

Berry and the other three officials will also handle the second Test in Cape Town on Saturday.

New Zealand's Ben O'Keeffe will take over from Berry with the whistle while Berry and Mathieu Raynal of France will be the assistant referees.

South African Marius Jonker, who was subjected to considerable criticism and online abuse after the first Test, will again operate as the television match official (TMO).

World Rugby reacted to the video by saying it "notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus".

"The nature of these will be raised with the (South African) union via the usual official channels and no further comment will be made at this stage."

Lack of respect

Former Munster head coach Erasmus accused Berry of showing a lack of respect to Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, saying Berry paid far more attention to Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.

Erasmus said he had wanted to "get clarity" from Berry last Sunday, but Berry had been available only on Tuesday, making it difficult for the Springboks to incorporate some of the interpretations into their preparation for the second Test on Saturday.

He alleged the Lions were able to get away with offences which Berry had specifically said in a pre-match briefing would not be allowed.

Erasmus, who coached the Springboks to the World Cup triumph in 2019, said the video was made in his personal capacity.

"I am not sure what will be the response," he said, but went on to add that if World Rugby wanted to take action against him he would, if necessary, step away from the team management.

'It is frustration'

"It is frustration," he said. "We have been waiting for this series for 12 years."

Erasmus said there were three aspects that the Springboks had asked of the refereeing panel:

  • "Don't let the Lions de-power us at the scrums and mauls"
  • "Show both teams the same respect"
  • "(Let the Springboks know) what areas the Lions are concerned about"

Erasmus accused Lions coach Warren Gatland of putting "uncalled-for" pressure on South African TMO Jonker, which he suggested may have had an influence on key decisions, including a disallowed try by Willie le Roux.

Erasmus conceded several of the clips he highlighted were decisions that could have gone either way – but he also believed important calls went against the world champions.

These included a spear tackle by Hamish Watson on Le Roux, which he said should have been punished with "nothing less than a yellow card," which would have meant the Lions playing 10 of the last 17 minutes with only 14 men.

He also said there were two incidents in the last move of the match, when the Springboks were trying desperately to score a try to equalise, which could have resulted in penalties against the Lions.

'It didn't really felt we had any advantage'

British and Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones has defended the match officials in charge of the series with South Africa, saying they have “the hardest job in the game.”

Wales lock Jones said he had not watched the video and only "heard a little bit about it" as his focus was on the build-up to the second Test this Saturday after the Lions won the first 22-15 last weekend.

When asked about if he felt the Lions were given more respect by the officials, the lock and most capped player in the world with 158 for Wales and the Lions said "in the heat of the moment, it didn't really have any.... felt we had any advantage, because a lot of times I was standing there next to Siya (Kolisi, the Springboks captain) when we were speaking to the refs, etc.. So, you know, that's an outside perception I probably can't really comment on."

Referee Nic Berry will be running the touchline this weekend as an assistant to New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe. Frenchman Mathieu Raynal will be the other assistant and South African Marius Jonker the TMO again.

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