RASSIE Erasmus upped the ante in his social media campaign against the match officials in last weekend’s first Test between the Springboks and Lions, by uploading an extraordinary hour-long monologue via the Vimeo video-sharing platform so that he could highlight 30 separate incidents in an attempt to demonstrate that his side was treated unfairly during their 22-17 loss in Cape Town.
During the 62-minute clip, South Africa’s Director of Rugby claims that home captain Siya Kolisi and his team were not shown the same respect as opposite number Alun Wyn Jones and his team.
He also complains at length about his request for feedback and clarity from Australian match referee Nic Berry on Sunday evening being left unanswered until the Tuesday after the game – and even then, he makes it clear that he is deeply unhappy with the tone and detail of the response.
The 48-year-old mentions during the clip that it is being recorded on Tuesday and insists that he is acting independently, without the knowledge of South Africa Rugby, although he is wearing a Springbok sweatshirt and cap.
“To be honest, we are not very … or I, personally, am not very convinced with the clarity that we got from Nic Berry in this match,” said Erasmus. “I have previous encounters when I have made mistakes saying things in public about referees and that normally comes back to bite you, but in this instance, I believe the Lions only comes around every 12 years and I think it should be fair.
“I’ll step away from these last two Test matches but let the Springboks and the Lions have an equal chance on the field when it comes to laws, respect, the way players are treated, what is said in the coaches’ pre-match meeting with the referees, how they give feedback post-match and how things are said in the media.
“It’s comical the respect the [officials] showed towards the South African players compared to the Lions players. There was a vast difference between who he was taking serious and who he wasn’t taking serious.”
Earlier this week, Erasmus denied that he is running a ‘burner’ Twitter account under the pseudonym ‘Jaco Johan’ to highlight incidents that he wasn’t happy about from last Saturday’s match. He did, however, share two of these tweets on his own account, and added a comment that Lions prop Mako Vunipola was ‘reckless’ and ‘dangerous’ when lifting Cheslin Kolbe from the ground after he had landed awkwardly.
Erasmus, who was head coach of the South African World Cup winning side before moving upstairs to the Director of Rugby role, says his social media campaign is a direct response to some of the messages which have come out of the Lions camp during the build-up to this Test series. He has been particularly irked by Warren Gatland’s suggestion that scrum-half Faf de Klerk should have been red-carded for a dangerous challenge on Wyn Jones during the Lions versus Springbok ‘A’ match on 14th July, and with the fuss Gatland stirred up over South African Marius Jonker being appointed Television Match Official for the series.
“The way the pressure was put on Marius Jonker in the week by Warren Gatland was uncalled for,” Erasmus added in the video. “We feel we got no joy from anything because we were quiet last week, and they were all over the media. We feel we got no positive results on the field.”
While one or two of the incidents Erasmus highlights do have some merit, he falls a long way short of proving an anti-South African agenda. The vast majority of the clips appear to be clutching at straws, and he even admits on several occasions that he is looking at marginal calls.
Whether these are the calculated actions of a man keen to push the focus away from his team by piling pressure on the opposition and match officials, or whether they are the wild ravings of a character struggling to cope with the gamesmanship of the master-manipulator Gatland, is hard to discern at the moment.
The big question is whether Erasmus’ actions here will have the desired effect of creating a more favourable environment for his team as they look to square the series this weekend? Or whether he will end up with egg on his face – and perhaps a suspension and hefty fine to boot?
“World Rugby notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus. The nature of these will be raised with the union via the usual official channels and no further comment will be made at this stage,” a statement from the game’s global governing body read.