Lions ignoring Rassie Erasmus’s social media claims

Robin McBryde says the tourists have full confidence in Saturday’s referee O’Keefe

Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde at a training session with Warren Gatland. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde at a training session with Warren Gatland. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The British & Irish Lions staff appear more amused, and even bemused, than perturbed by the hour-long video posted by South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus outlining 26 officiating errors and a host of other grievances arising from last Saturday’s first Test.

Understandably bombarded by questions in response to the Erasmus diatribe, Robin McBryde’s initial response to whether the coaches had sat through the video was to declare: “No, so hopefully there’s a better second question.” The Lions’ forwards coach laughed, knowing full well that would not be the case.

Nor, he claimed, had it even been discussed among the coaching staff, with McBryde expressing confidence in the New Zealand match referee, Ben O’Keefe, for tomorrow’s second Test at the Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 5pm).

“No, we had a good meeting with the referees yesterday. As Ben O’Keefe said himself, we’re aware there’s a lot of stuff out there on social media etc, but that’s not going to affect anything. That’s just a sideshow.

“We had a positive discussion with the referee. Everyone realises they’re in a tough place. They’ve got a tough job to do. But we were really happy with Nic Berry last Saturday and I don’t think it will be any different this weekend either.”

McBryde maintained that if any action is to be taken against Erasmus, it was a matter for World Rugby, who thus far have kept a watching, or waiting, brief which has confined itself to the following statement:

“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.”

However, the pressure on the game’s governing body to take action against Erasmus has been intensified by the response of Rugby Australia, who expressed their “dismay and concern” over his “unacceptable” critique of Australian referee Nic Berry in the first Test, and not least the incendiary claim that the latter had treated Alun Wyn Jones with more respect than the Springboks’ captain Siya Kolisi.

In a statement, they said: “Rugby Australia has noted with dismay and concern the recent public commentary by South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, regarding Australian referee Nic Berry and other match officials.

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“There is no place for abuse of match officials in Australian Rugby, with Rugby Australia committed to promoting a fair, safe and inclusive Rugby experience for all participants, officials and fans.

“Rugby Australia believes the recent actions are unacceptable and against the spirit and values of the game.”

Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said: “Match officials form the very fabric of our game - simply, the game would not exist without them. As a highly regarded and respected international referee appointed by World Rugby, the attack on Nic’s integrity, character and reputation is unacceptable.

“We have been in contact with World Rugby, under whose auspices this Test Series sit, and understand that they are actively reviewing this matter as some facts presented were not accurate. It is important to ensure public attacks of this nature are not tolerated. We will continue to provide support to Nic at this time, as both his physical and mental wellbeing remains a priority for us,” Marinos said.

Erasmus may have engendered some sympathy with his frustration over what he saw as the tardy response of World Rugby to his complaints, if more so in South Africa than abroad, but even in this regard McBryde had no complaints with the governing body of the global game.

In this he cited a conversation with the former All Blacks scrum coach Mike Cron last Tuesday morning.

“Mike is used as a consultant for World Rugby. He’s a great sounding board. Everyone in world rugby knows Mike from a scrummaging point of view in particular. I was on a call with him for well over half an hour, I was keen to hear his views on a couple of things. I can only speak from my own experience this week.

“I know Joel (Jutge, World Rugby head of referees) has been in touch with Warren with regards to some clips that he wanted clarity on. The process is not different to what I’ve experienced in the past internationally.

“It was the same during the World Cup in 2019 and I can only say that I’m really happy with the way the week has gone and we weren’t surprised by anything on Saturday from Nic Berry and we had a good conversation with the referees yesterday. We’re generally happy with the way things have gone this week.”

In the fall-out from Erasmus’ remarkable monologue, the Lions could afford to take the moral high ground, and McBryde accentuated the need for rugby to maintain its respect for referees, albeit this has never been more at risk.

“In the Rainbow Cup when they were trialling the laws of being able to challenge decisions on the field with the captain, my own personal view was that it brought out that element of scenes that we don’t like to see, where you’re openly challenging decisions by the referee. It’s not really my cup of tea.

“As you rightly say, traditionally rugby has prided itself on being able to rise above that and showing respect to the officials. No back chat etc. Right from a very young age players are taught that you can’t speak back to the referee. Hopefully that will continue. We had a very positive meeting with the three officials yesterday and we’re looking forward to the game on Saturday.”

Ah yes, the second Test. It can’t come soon enough, even if there is now unprecedented pressure and scrutiny on O’Keefe and his team of officials.

Reading from a statement, McBryde also confirmed that Dan Biggar is in line to play pending completion of the final stage of his return to play protocols today.

“Dan Biggar will complete his graduated return to play today with his final contact training session ahead of the match on Saturday. He has been symptom-free since his post-match head injury assessment and has remained symptom free throughout the process.

“He has been monitored daily by two consultant sports physicians and has also been reviewed by an independent professional consultant. This process has been successfully utilised to allow for independent verification of the medical management undertaken in all concussion cases during the tour in SA to date. All players will have an individualised and highly integrated approach to their management with a multitude of factors being taken into consideration. Our players’ health remains the absolute priority and we continue to deliver the highest level of care independent of any match regardless of its importance.”

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