Eddie Jones in jibe at Rassie Erasmus over criticism of referees

England coach alludes to José Mourinho in wake of Wayne Barnes being threatened after South Africa coach comments

Eddie Jones has insisted referees must be treated with respect after joking that Rassie Erasmus may take a leaf out of José Mourinho’s book and sidestep his matchday ban on Saturday by hiding in a laundry basket. Jones also wondered whether Erasmus’s outbursts and the siege mentality South Africa have fostered has been designed to motivate the world champions.

Erasmus implicitly criticised the English referee, Wayne Barnes, when posting a series of clips from South Africa’s narrow defeat by France earlier this month, alongside a number of sarcastic comments. Barnes has received death threats and his family have also been targeted, leading to the Rugby Football Union sending a strongly-worded letter to its South African counterpart, deploring Erasmus’ behaviour.

World Rugby tightened its regulations after banning Erasmus for 12 months for a similar outburst during the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour and last week moved quickly to ban South Africa’s director of rugby again from matchday activities against Italy last weekend and England on Saturday.

But in an apparent reference to how Mourinho, while serving a ban, snuck into Chelsea’s dressing room to give a team-talk in 2005 before being smuggled out by the kit man, Jones said: “He might come in a laundry box. That’s been done before hasn’t it? I’m sure he will get in there somehow. The only thing I’d say is that we have to respect the referees and look after the referees. They’re an important part of our game.”

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Asked if Erasmus’ behaviour is intentionally contributing to South Africa’s siege mentality, Jones added: “Whenever you’ve won something, you need to find the motivation to do it again and maybe it is a clever way to find motivation.”

Jones recalled how he was fined A$10,000 dollars for comments he made about a referee while coaching Queensland Reds in 2007, saying he paid it out of his own pocket – a harsh lesson on the need to bite his tongue. Jones has not always done so as England head coach and was reprimanded by the RFU for comments made about Ben O’Keeffe following his side’s Six Nations win over Wales in 2020.

That said, he has largely kept his counsel since in comparison to Erasmus’ outbursts and those of Ronan O’Gara, one of the contenders to succeed him as England head coach, who has just been hit with a 10-match ban – a fourth separate suspension in the past year.

The RFU is seeking to clampdown on the abuse of match officials at all levels amid a concerning rise in the number of incidents and Jones added: “Since [1998] I have accepted the fact we shouldn’t speak about referees. To me it’s simple. Play the game, the referee’s in charge, if he makes mistakes let’s accept it. If we want to have a contest game, referees are going to make mistakes. If we don’t let’s play basketball, let’s call it basketball. I’m not perfect.

“I’ve said things that probably haven’t been right but the longer I’ve coached the more I accept we’ve got to look after the referees.”

Jones has made four changes to his side for the weekend encounter with South Africa, with vice-captains Ellis Genge and Jack Nowell dropping to the bench and Mako Vunipola and Tommy Freeman starting in their place. Jamie George and Alex Coles also come into a beefed-up pack.

“We’ve got to meet the challenge of them coming through the front door,” said Jones. “It’s a different game and we’ve selected a different side to neutralise their strengths and play to our strengths.”

ENGLAND (v South Africa, Saturday, Twickenham, 5.30pm): F Steward (Leicester Tigers); T Freeman (Northampton Saints), M Tuilagi (Sale Sharks), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), J May (Gloucester Rugby); M Smith (Harlequins), J van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Bristol Bears); M Itoje (Saracens), J Hill (Sale Sharks); A Coles (Northampton Saints), T Curry (Sale Sharks), B Vunipola (Saracens). Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), E Genge (Bristol Bears), W Stuart (Bath Rugby), D Ribbans (Northampton Saints), S Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), J Nowell (Exeter Chiefs).

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie le Roux; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Damian Willemse, Faf de Klerk; Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe; Eben Etzebeth, Marvin Orie; Siya Kolisi (capt), Franco Mostert, Evan Roos. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Manie Libbok, Canan Moodie.