SARugbymag.co.za breaks down World Rugby’s confirmation that SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will face a hearing over his comments about match officials during the series between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions.
Following the opening Test between the teams, Erasmus took to social media, and then fronted up at a media conference, to explain some of the frustrations about officiating inconsistencies and World Rugby’s referee review process.
Last Thursday, an unprecedented video also came to light, with Erasmus sitting front and centre as he highlighted a host of officiating discrepancies in detail, including instances where he feels officials showed the South Africans a lack of respect.
World Rugby on Monday issued a statement confirming that both Erasmus and SA Rugby will face an independent misconduct hearing as Erasmus’ comments were considered in breach of Regulation 18 (Misconduct and Code of Conduct).
Erasmus is not the first coach to be critical of a Test referee’s performance.
In 2020, England Eddie Jones criticised New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe for sending off Manu Tuilagi for a dangerous tackle in their Six Nations clash with Wales. Jones called the decision “rubbish” and bizzare” in the post-match news conference and said that England were “13 versus 16 at the end”.
Jones was subsequently rebuked by the England RFU, who issued a public apology to O’Keeffe, but faced no further sanction from World Rugby even though he himself did not apologise.
In 2019, Australia head coach Michael Cheika hit out at the standard of refereeing after Romain Poite’s decision to send Samu Kerevi off for using his elbow while carrying the ball during a World Cup match against Wales. Cheika said that he was “embarrassed” by the decision and that “administrators are spooking the refs” during the post-match media conference.
The decision was also criticised by Australia captain Michael Hooper, who said that he didn’t know how to carry the ball legally anymore. Neither coach nor captain faced any sanctions from World Rugby.
It was not the first time that Cheika was critical of match officials, either. During a 2017 Test against England at Twickenham, Cheika was caught on camera saying “f***ing cheats” when the Wallabies had a try disallowed.
However, an Autumn International Disciplinary Committee was content with issuing Cheika with a warning after investigating his comments.
Erasmus’ video is also not the first time a coach has been critical of an official during a Lions tour. In the 2005 Lions series against New Zealand, following Brian O’Driscoll’s tour-ending injury in a spear tackle by Tana Umaga, apoplectic Lions coach Clive Woodward highlighted the illegality of the incident during a media conference using photo stills and a PowerPoint presentation.
SA Rugby’s view
SA Rugby released a statement on Monday night, acknowledging the charges and confirming that they will follow the proper channels.
“SA Rugby has noted the charges brought by World Rugby and will respond through the designated channels,” the statement read.
“Media are advised that there will be no further comment from SA Rugby until the process is complete.”
In its statement on Monday, World Rugby highlighted its concern over comments made about match officials from both the British & Irish Lions and Springboks.
This is in reference to reports in the British media about Warren Gatland questioning the neutrality and integrity of World Rugby’s decision to appoint Marius Jonker as TMO for the first Test.
However, Gatland has been spared the same fate as Erasmus, with World Rugby communcating that the “direct nature” of Erasmus’ video address put him in breach of their regulations.
“Having conducted a full review of all the available information, World Rugby is concerned that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials,” World Rugby’s statement read.
“However, the extensive and direct nature of the comments made by Rassie Erasmus within a video address, in particular, meets the threshold to be considered a breach of World Rugby Regulation 18 [Misconduct and Code of Conduct].”
This will raise questions as to whether it is acceptable to continue commenting about match officials through the press, as Gatland did and Erasmus initially refused to do before the first Test.
World Rugby to review Code of Conduct
In answering the above question, World Rugby confirmed in the statement that it will review its code of conduct relating to incidents involving comments about match officials.
This could mean widening that scope to include comments about match officials and particular decisions during media conferences and introducing harsher sanctions for any breaches.
“World Rugby has reminded the management of both teams of the importance of this area and their obligations regarding the values of the sport.
“In order to protect the integrity of the sport and its values, World Rugby will also undertake a review of its Code of Conduct relating to incidents of this nature with a view to strengthening scope, rules and sanctions.”