It’s Rassie Erasmus vs Eddie Jones and the only loser is rugby’s referees – Martin Hannan

The sound of loud and incredulous laughter reverberating around the world of rugby could be heard yesterday after England coach Eddie Jones’s extraordinary intervention in the row over South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ infamous video rant against Australian referee Nic Berry following the first Test between Springboks and the British and Irish Lions.

More about Erasmus later and you won’t need reminding he, and indeed the South Africa Rugby Union, is facing a disciplinary hearing by World Rugby for what he did.

In case you missed it, here’s what Jones said: “Rassie made his famous video and I don’t think that is correct, but we need to make sure the referees work as a three a lot harder than they do at the moment to ensure that particularly at the breakdown we get what we need to get, which is a fair contest between contest and continuity. But there is an appropriate way to do it, and that is being respectful to the referee.”

For good measure, Jones added that the Erasmus case “should be dealt with quickly.”

He said: “We need to make sure that we have respect in the game because we are asking kids to be respectful to the referee.”

The reason for the laughter and the downright scorn heaped upon Jones is that the England head coach himself has plenty of form for criticising referees. Even in his condemnation of Erasmus, Jones managed to get in a dig at the standard of refereeing nowadays.

You can’t have it both ways, Eddie, and while I may agree with him about depreciating standards of officials, it is the job of World Rugby to sort it and the press and the media to call it out, not the occupants of high-level jobs in the sport. That is not the way to encourage respect for referees and their assistants.

It is a fact that, almost universally, referees are assessed on their performance in every competitive match, and at international level are subject to even greater scrutiny because of the very existence of video replays. The presence of cameras and TMOs has created a culture in which coaches, players and fans expect referees to always get it right. Yet they cannot be 100 per cent correct all the time because they are human and make mistakes.

A referee friend of mine once said to me that rugby was a simple game made difficult by the laws which, he added, players and coaches often don’t know or understand. Then there are coaches who know and understand the laws and happily twist them to their own advantage.

That is what makes Erasmus’s actions such a blatant piece of cynical opportunism. By doing what he did, he piled pressure onto the referees for the remaining two Tests and that is why World Rugby must throw the book at him – a whole library’s worth, with a minimum one-year suspension from rugby my favoured sentence.

He might even get off, it should be admitted, because his lawyers are going to argue that his 62-minute video was not meant for public show. Oh really? Then who was it meant for?

While they are at it, World Rugby should skelp him financially for the water carrier stunt. That also brought the sport into disrepute and was cheating, pure and simple. Law 6 (29a) says that “water-carriers during a stoppage in play for an injury to a player or when a try has been scored” are allowed on the field of play without permission from the referee, but coaches are only allowed on the pitch “when attending to their teams at half-time.” Anyone who thinks Erasmus was just doling out H2O and not instructions is probably a rabid Boks fan.

Here’s World Rugby’s Regulation 18 under which Erasmus has been charged with misconduct: “For the purposes of these Regulations Relating to the Game, ‘Misconduct’ shall mean any conduct, behaviour, statementsand/or practices on or off the playing enclosure during or in connection with a Match or otherwise, that is unsporting and/or cheating and/or insulting and/or unruly and/or ill-disciplined and/or that brings or has the potential to bring the Game and/or any of its constituent bodies, World Rugby and/or its appointed personnel or commercial partners and/or Match Officials and/or judicial personnel into disrepute.”

The regulation specifies types of misconduct including “acting in an abusive, insulting, intimidating or offensive manner towards referees.”

I’d say Erasmus is pretty well bang to rights, wouldn’t you? In my opinion he broke both Law 6 and Regulation 18, and he must be severely punished.

If so and he learns his lesson, and if Eddie Jones can continue his new found respect for officialdom, some good might yet come of all this mess.

It’s not overstating the matter to say that the Erasmus independent panel have the future of the sport in their hands. Because if Erasmus gets away with it, who will ever want to be a referee again? Hammer him hard, and we might get back to the old days when the referee was always right, especially when he was wrong.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992