Rassie Erasmus’ hour-long video was a standout feature from a Boks-Lions tour that was extraordinary in so many ways, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.
The 2021 British & Irish Lions series will be remembered as a tour of many firsts. For one, it went ahead during arguably the most unsettling and uncertain times for many of us, not only in the rugby world, but in all spheres in life.
When the Boks won the World Cup in 2019, beating England 32-12 in Japan, the interest levels for this Lions tour accelerated and escalated to the next level overnight. Many of the Lions Army had no problem booking their flights and accommodation as they sought to secure the opportunity to watch this spectacle that only happens every 12 years in South Africa.
Fast forward a few months and the world went into a lockdown never seen before, with uncertainty taking the global population through a rollercoaster of emotional and physical stress, with many losing their lives due to Covid-19.
When South Africa locked down on 26 March 2020, the thought of a Lions tour not taking place 18 months later was not a thought in any rugby supporter’s mind, and certainly not an option for any rugby administrator making decisions regarding this tour. If you don’t believe me just look at the demand for tickets that saw the ballot system oversubscribed. What was even more promising for SA Rugby was the tickets to the hospitality suites going on sale at over R10 000, which were snapped up overnight.
However, matters took another twist very quickly, when whispers emerged from the corridors that the tour might take on a very different shape and size. Even talks about playing in a bio-bubble in Australia did the rounds. Ultimately, the decision was made for the tour to go ahead in South Africa with no spectators able to attend any of the games. In hindsight, we will never know if this was the best decision, but it was yet another first for a Lions tour.
The first couple of tour games took place with little drama, albeit under extreme circumstances, but when the Bulls returned a few positive Covid-19, cases and the second warm-up Test against Georgia was cancelled due to an outbreak in the Springbok squad, the tour was under pressure again. In fact, many thought that the Lions might get on a plane and head home.
Plans were again changed when a double-header against the Sharks was arranged before the Lions then played an SA A team loaded with World Cup-winning Boks and a World Cup-winning coach donning an H20 bib. If the SA A team selection and subsequent victory didn’t raise enough eyebrows, the sight of the ‘waterboy’ certainly set the rugby world alight, and many criticised Rassie’s decision to be on the field of play.
It was certainly a tour of many firsts, but through it all, what differentiated it from any other was the decision by Erasmus to compile an hour-long video pointing out the decisions he did not agree with during the first Test officiated by Australian referee Nic Berry. To see the South African director of rugby carrying the water was one thing, but it was nothing compared to making such a video, and rightly so. Forever and a day, officials in rugby were always well-protected from any scrutiny from coaches and players alike.
Rassie has since been charged by World Rugby and he will have to answer to an independent judiciary panel. What will happen will be another first for rugby.
These are uncertain times for sure, but by the time you read this article, the tour will be over and Rassie would have had his hearing. Will this video and pointing out officiating inconsistencies and glaring blunders become the norm, or will World Rugby take a strong stance and put an abrupt end to this with some serious consequences? Could there be even more long-term ramifications for future Bok teams?
Only time will tell.
But without a doubt, this has been a time and certainly a tour of many firsts. Some good, some bad, some ugly.
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