British & Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones was “an absolute genius” in the way he courted referee Nic Berry last week, according to former Springbok captain John Smit.
“You just have to look at his (Jones) influence over the referee,” Smit said on SuperSport TV, reviewing the controversy that has followed the Lions’ 22-17 victory against South Africa in the first of three Tests.
“He was hardly more than a metre-and-a-half from the referee. He kept feeding the ref, manipulating, I suppose, highlighting things.
“He’s an old dog, he’s been captain for a long time. He knows how to push the buttons, ask subtle questions. Siya couldn’t get a chance. It was like Alun Wyn was on a date with Nic Berry,” said Smit who in 2009 led South Africa to a series-victory against the Lions.
“The more you talk to the ref, the more the other captain is thinking, ‘Why can’t I win here?’ It’s a mind game and Alun Wyn was an absolute genius.”
Smit understands the frustration that led Rassie Erasmus to post a controversial video saying he had experience of complaints about referees being met with “deaf ears” from rugby bosses.
Erasmus, South Africa’s rugby director, pointed out in a 62-minute video what he claimed were numerous errors by Berry and the other match officials during the first Test.
Smit, who led South Africa to the 2007 Rugby World Cup title and a series win against the Lions two years later, agreed with Erasmus that key decisions went against the Springboks.
He also agreed that Berry had respected Lions’ skipper Alun Wyn Jones more than Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
Smit said complaining about referees was frustrating.
“We all have those days where we think that we’ve taken a klap (beating) from the referees. We go through the right channels and we send the clips to the head of referees or whoever the case may be and nothing happens.”
Smit highlighted two decisions.
The first was when Springbok prop Ox Nche caused Tadhg Furlong to lose his bind in a scrum. Lions flank Tom Curry then made an illegal move, causing a neck injury which will keep Nche out of the rest of the series. Yet Berry penalised Nche.
“He (Ox) got penalised for being broken illegally and his trajectory as a Springbok might be affected by the fact that he can’t play again for the next couple of weeks.
“On the other hand, if (Lions lock) Maro Itoje had got a yellow card for stealing the ball as we were about to score a try, with his knees on the player, it might have been a different scenario for him and his trajectory as a player.”©