It took 62 minutes for Rassie Erasmus to rip apart the refereeing performance in the British Lions’ First Test win over South Africa. It was 62 minutes of considered, well-researched, thoroughly-evidenced, well-presented candour which could land the Springboks director of rugby in massive trouble. But in its very existence, Erasmus’ video was an explosive device which now projects the most unforgiving of spotlights on the officials ahead of Saturday’s Second Test in Cape Town.
The video was the result of the World Cup winner’s fury at the lack of “fairness” in the Lions’ 22-17 win in the first game of the three-match series, but in launching such an attack in public he might just have opened a massive can of worms.
Unwilling to just accept some incidents as the result of a fast-paced game being overseen by humans prone to occasional errors, Erasmus also identified moments in which the TMO video referee could have intervened and then slated Australian referee Nic Berry for laughing off captain Siya Kolisi’s well-mannered appeal over a seemingly incorrect decision.
A lot of what Erasmus said had merit. He came to the table with his laptop stacked up with plenty of compelling evidence. He was very measured in his delivery of his argument. But the very idea of making such a public display of his criticism is what is sure to land him in hot water.
He clearly carried over gripes from previous run-ins with the authorities, even defending his role as a water carrier in the first game, insisting that since he is the director of rugby and no longer the head coach he was breaking no rules by running out refreshments. Yet his methodical deconstruction of the actions of the officials will have caused World Rugby the greatest ire.
“If this [means] that I’m not allowed to be water carrier that’s fine, I’ll step away,” he conceded. “If we’re going to get a fine, I’ll step away from the management team. If this means the Springboks will get into trouble, I’ll say I did this personally, because I believe in fairness, and two teams having an equal chance of competing in a match.
“I’ve had previous encounters saying things in public about referees and it normally comes back to bite you. The Lions only come around every 12 years and I think it should be fair that I will step away from these last two Test matches. But let the two teams have an equal chance on the field when it comes to laws, respect the way players are treated, what is said in the pre-match coaches’ meetings with referees, how they give feedback and are seen in the media.”
The fact that the 48-year-old’s diatribe called into question the impartiality of officials means that there have to be significant consequences for Erasmus. He might have had an argument in each and every case which he raised, but no sport can withstand such a takedown of its arbiters.
And in defence of the referee and his team, can you imagine what would happen if, in response, Berry sat in front of a camera for 62 minutes with a laptop and broke down all of South Africa’s errors and took apart all the work Erasmus and head coach Jacques Nienaber had done in the weeks prior to the game? There would rightly be an outcry.
Erasmus will be dealt with in time. World Rugby have said they will be in touch with SA Rugby and will make further comment at a later date, but sanctions are inevitable.
And in the meantime, Saturday’s referee Ben O’Keeffe has to somehow officiate the Second Test without this whole episode having any sort of psychological effect on his decision-making. Rassie’s rant will have far-reaching consequences.