Gatland spoke to Joe Schmidt about a neutral TMO for last two Tests

Lions coach says ‘we can’t see any instances where we’ve been critical of the officials’

The Lions asked World Rugby to explore the possibility of bringing in a neutral TMO for the second and third Tests. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Lions asked World Rugby to explore the possibility of bringing in a neutral TMO for the second and third Tests. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

While Warren Gatland declined to comment about the misconduct charge which World Rugby have brought against the Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, he expressed his clear annoyance that the game’s governing body said it was concerned “that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials.”

In his 62-minute video rant, Erasmus had led the claims by the Springboks that Gatland had questioned the integrity of the series. Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick added that the Lions head coach had “destroyed the dignity of the series” by questioning the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as TMO after New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill was unable to travel.

“Look, there’s been so much said about that stuff,” said Gatland. “The only thing I’m disappointed about in World Rugby’s statement is that they’ve kind of inadvertently dragged us into it.

“We’ve tried to, we think, maintain as much integrity as we can, in terms of we haven’t been commenting on refereeing. We never questioned the TMO. The only question we asked is why hadn’t World Rugby put a contingency plan in place if people couldn’t travel or got sick.

“That’s the only question that we had asked. So I’m really, really disappointed with a part of the statement where they’ve sort of said both sides have been making comments and been critical of the officials.

“I’d like someone to show me where we have done that. We’ve looked through everything and we can’t see any instances where we’ve been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we’ve praised the officials.”

Concerns

Accordingly, when asked about Jonker’s performance in South Africa’s 27-9 win in the second test last Saturday, Gatland said: “I don’t want to comment on his performances.”

However, he did confirm that they were only informed about Jonker’s appointment on the Wednesday before the first test.

“We only found out subsequently that World Rugby had known for at least a week or so that there was at least a possibility that he wasn’t going to be travelling to South Africa. That’s what raised our concerns. We weren’t notified about that and why there wasn’t a contingency in place for it happening.

“Every four years there’s a World Cup and I think the next biggest thing on the world rugby calendar is the Lions. You don’t want to be in a position where any of the match officials can be potentially criticised or questioned.

“We’ve already had that, where these officials have been accused of being disrespected and haven’t made the right calls and have potentially been influenced. That’s been disappointing, I think for everyone we have to make sure we respect the officials as best we can.

“They have a difficult difficult job, there was a lot spoken about certain decisions and calls and sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and get on with it.”

While Gatland said he would again restrict his questions regarding decisions in last Saturday’s second Test to this week’s match officials rather than in the public domain, he did confirm that the Lions had asked World Rugby to explore the possibility of bringing in a neutral TMO for the second and third Tests.

“I spoke to Joe Schmidt, who is involved, to give me some clarity on the decision and just asking why plans hadn’t been put in place regarding this. It’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn’t make it out here?

“We’ve had contingency plans for a couple of things in case things happened with Covid so that we’d be covered. So, there was no question about people being involved. What we questioned was the process.”

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