In a wide-ranging interview looking back on the 2021 Lions series, Rassie Erasmus has opened up on the struggle to get people to believe in Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
Erasmus was speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail, in an interview that looks back on last year’s dramatic Lions tour of South Africa.
Following the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions, Erasmus was criticised and then suspended after a 62-minute video of him criticizing referee Nic Berry was leaked and went viral on social media.
Part of Erasmus’ complaints were that Berry and the other match officials were more willing to give Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones an opportunity to speak to them during the first Test than they were with Kolisi.
Erasmus and Kolisi have walked a long road together. It was Erasmus who brought Kolisi to the Western Province Rugby Academy from Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. Kolisi progressed quickly through the ranks and the two went on to win the 2019 World Cup together as Bok coach and captain.
During the interview, Erasmus revealed the nastiness that came from the South African public when he backed Kolisi as Bok captain in 2018.
“Before the first Test I had a meeting with the match officials,” Erasmus told the Daily Mail. “I explained to the referee that the Springboks had not played for two years since the World Cup and our captain Siya Kolisi would be up against a team with four international captains.
“I knew from experience how they intimidate referees, so I asked that he must give Siya the same respect as Alun Wyn Jones, to which he agreed. People outside of South Africa might not understand this fully but having a black Springbok captain is a flammable situation in our country.
“I lost a lot of friends when I made Siya captain. There was a lot of nastiness. Before the World Cup, my daughters’ friends’ parents would say, ‘Tell that f****** father of yours to stop sucking up for a pay cheque.’ People said it was political. The fight to get people to believe in Siya was a real struggle.”
Erasmus’ claims were backed up by Kolisi himself when, in a 30 July press conference ahead of the second Lions Test, Kolisi confirmed that he did not feel respected by Berry.
“When I was water carrier during that first Test, I was close to the action and I could see that Siya was not getting heard,” Erasmus added. “Those people who always questioned Siya came back out and said, ‘See Rassie, you f***** this up, we were right all along.’
“I’m not saying Nic Berry is racist. Absolutely not. 100 percent. I actually think he is a cool guy. But when you are in a volatile country with 54 million black people and six million white people then you at least need a conversation. I didn’t understand why Siya’s messages weren’t getting through: do they think he’s an a**hole?”
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