Erasmus: Springboks would never question referee’s integrity

SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus says he found it “weird” that British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland questioned TMO Marius Jonker’s integrity before the first Test of the Lions series last week.

The buildup to this past Saturday’s first Test between the Springboks and Lions was dominated by the Lions’ reported angry reaction to Jonker being appointed as the series TMO, after Brendon Pickerill had to withdraw due to travel issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jonker and referee Nic Berry made a few contentious calls in the first Test on Saturday, which Erasmus himself highlighted with video clips on social media.

During Tuesday’s team announcement media conference, Erasmus was asked whether he felt the Lions had successfully influenced the officials through the media, and whether the Springboks hoped to do the same with match-day referee Ben O’Keeffe this week.

“In the past, we have found that when we talk in the media too much it normally backfires on us,” Erasmus said. “But then Warren Gatland spoke last week about Marius Jonker. Warren is a great guy and a good man, but it was weird for me that people would question Marius’ integrity.

“If we had to say this week that Ben O’Keeffe is a New Zealander and Warren is also a New Zealander, we would never say that. It wouldn’t sit well, and the whole integrity of the game would be questioned. We will never do that.”

Erasmus explained that part of his motivation for tweeting the videos was that feedback from World Rugby over the officiating in the first Test was slow.

“So, we’re trying to find out from World Rugby exactly about some decisions we got wrong during the game. That’s what we’re focusing on a hell of a lot. Feedback was a little slow and we are trying to incorporate that in today’s training. Hopefully that comes through on Saturday.

“So, no, we won’t be loud in the media.”

Erasmus was then asked if micro-analysing every refereeing decision and promoting it on Twitter was also a part of undermining the integrity of the referee and the game.

“That’s 100% right,” he answered. “If someone goes and micro- analyses every wrong decision, I think that’s wrong, you can’t do that.  A referee only has two pairs of eyes. But if you do analyse things he’s supposed to see, then you are spot on in doing that when it comes to the integrity of the game.”

Erasmus added he was unsure whether World Rugby should step in when pre-match comments are made about the referees, but emphasised that he had learned his own lessons in this regard.

“Not sure what the answer is on that one. It is a difficult one. I was baffled when Marius was appointed as the TMO. I am actually close, close friends with Marius. I know him very well. I made a point of not phoning him before that match because I thought it was such a tough thing for him to do. I did feel when he was mentioned because he is South African, that didn’t sit well with me.

“I know last year, in the Rugby Championship, New Zealand and Australia played with New Zealand referees and Australian referees against each other. That’s the way things happened because of Covid.

“I don’t know if World Rugby should interfere, but if Ben O’Keeffe makes wrong decisions on Saturday, you will never hear us say it’s because he is New Zealander. One must try and stay away from those things. I have learned my lesson when I have made those mistakes many times. I have many times talked too much about referees.”

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Dylan Jack