Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick has come out in defence of Rassie Erasmus, saying that World Rugby cannot possibly take action against him without also taking steps against Warren Gatland.
SA Rugby director of rugby, Erasmus has come under widespread criticism from the UK media following his release of a controversial hour-long video highlighting in detail a number of officiating inconsistencies by Australian referee Nic Berry in the first Test between the Boks and the British & Irish Lions, including instances where he felt officials showed the South Africans a lack of respect.
World Rugby has all but confirmed that they’ll investigate Erasmus’ behaviour, while Rugby Australia issued a strongly-worded statement, denouncing Erasmus for his comments regarding the match officials in general and Berry in particular.
Erasmus has been accused of bringing the game into disrepute and of unsportsmanlike behaviour.
By contrast, Gatland has been spared the same fate and has been portrayed in the media as exhibiting “statesmanlike” behaviour, despite questioning the neutrality and integrity of World Rugby’s decision to appoint Marius Jonker as TMO for the first Test.
Speaking during an online media conference on Friday, Stick said Gatland was the one who stoked the fire prior to the first Test and should be treated in exactly the same manner as Erasmus, if not more so because the Lions boss directly challenged World Rugby.
“Let’s go to the build-up of the first Test. Firstly the integrity of World Rugby was challenged by another human being when Marius Jonker was appointed as the TMO. Someone on the other side, Gatland, went crazy and was asking World Rugby and challenging them about the decision they’ve made,” Stick explained.
“Everyone knows we’re living in a challenging time, living through Covid-19, so the other gentleman who was supposed to be the TMO couldn’t travel to South Africa because of Covid protocols.
“So it wasn’t in our [SA Rugby’s] hands, as we don’t appoint TMOs. And yet, that [Jonker’s appointment] was publicly challenged by a coach on the other side and to this day I haven’t heard any apology from him or his side about it and I haven’t read any statement from World Rugby.”
Stick added that all the Springboks are asking for is a level playing field, both in how the referee handles the game on the field and how World Rugby handles Erasmus and Gatland’s criticism of match officials should there be action taken.
“We’re not asking for any favours, we just want equal grounds. It took 12 years to get to where we are at the moment, so I wouldn’t like the series to all be about decisions that were taken by officials or the whole thing about coaches [talking] off the field.
“We are living in different times now. There are traditional media conferences and there’s social media, which is very powerful. I know there’s been a lot said between the Lions coach and our director of rugby, but all I’m saying is whatever Rassie said on social media, Gatland also said things in a media conference.
“What is right for one side, must be right for the other side. It can’t be a two-way thing, where one team is playing on a glass field and another one is playing in mud. Both teams need the same treatment and respect, that’s all.
“There’s a saying that goes, the birds all make different sounds but they all come under the same bush. And that’s the point I’m trying to get across. Even if things are being said on social media or they are being said in a traditional media conference, it’s still the media. Both Rassie and Gatland wanted to get their messages across.
“If Rassie got into trouble for bringing the game into disrepute because of what he said on social media, I think the gentleman that challenged the integrity of the game at the beginning when the TMO was appointed destroyed the dignity of the series.
“The video or the gentleman that questioned the integrity of World Rugby? That’s where we need to start, that’s what you should question.”