Uneasy truce reached between Lions management and match officials

Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde outlines meeting with officials ahead of first Test

Although the British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland is thought to be furious that the former South African referee Maruis Jonker has been appointed as the TMO for the first Test, a slightly uneasy truce appears to have been reached between the tourists and the match officials.

Jonker, a 53-year-old former policeman, was chosen as the TMO on Wednesday in place of New Zealand's Brendon Pickerill who, because of travel restrictions due to the Covid pandemic, has not been able to travel.

The refereeing appointments for the Tests are made by World Rugby and while there might have been time for another TMO to fly in from France, it now appears to be too late.

Jonker’s son, Rynhardt, is a professional rugby player for the Sharks, where his team-mates include Siya Kolisi, among other Springboks.


“It was a bit unexpected,” said the Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde on Friday. “We only found out on Wednesday. There’s a slight lack of foresight because there’s a reason why that position is neutral. There’s no plan B put in place. You’ve just got to get on with it really.”

Gatland had already questioned the decision to merely issue a yellow card to Faf de Klerk, at Jonker’s recommendation in tandem with South African referee Jaco Peyper, toward the end of the first half in the South Africa A v Lions game last Wednesday week.

“We met the three officials who will be officiating on the weekend. We went through everything that’s happened up to date. They’re reluctant to pass any opinion on what’s happened,” said McBryde.

“They’re aware of it and they’re confident in the ‘comms’ they’ll have on the weekend that between the three of them, or four of them I should say sorry, come to the right decision. The role of the TMO, his say is pretty final with regards to communication between him and the referee. It is a very important position. I’m sure there will be no issues on the weekend.”

McBryde expressed confidence that the past is the past, and that henceforth the officials will make the correct calls.

“It’s very much a clean slate. There’s consistency between the referees, that’s what they’re aiming for. We had a good discussion in and around a lot of things that have happened to date. But the impression I got really was that they wanted to move on and that they trust in their own decisions and communications and the understanding between the three of them, so hopefully that will come to the fore on the weekend.”

The Lions management are also looking for an independent TMO to be brought in for the second and third Tests. The referees for the three Test matches are all independent. Nic Berry, the Australian, will take charge on Saturday, followed by Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand) and Mathieu Raynal (France).

The Springboks assistant coach, Mzwandile Stick, said : “As a Springbok team, we don’t appoint the officials; that’s a job for World Rugby so I won’t go deep into that and say we are happy or unhappy with the officials because it’s not in our hands. One thing I know for sure is that those guys are all professional and all respect that job.

“To us, it doesn’t affect us, the main thing is focusing on how we are going to play the game. If they [Lions] have got a problem with that, they can go and have a chat with World Rugby regarding that.”

The Lions are also in dispute with the Springboks over their director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, acting as a water boy in their warm-up games.

Erasmus, until recently the team’s head coach, was a water carrier for South Africa A last week and appeared to enter the pitch to convey tactical messages, all the more so as he didn’t actually carry any water bottles. While Gatland said it was “not a good look for the game”, a view which was backed up by the former World Rugby head of refereeing, Alain Rolland.

But according to Stick, their World Cup-winning head coach will not be deterred.

“Rassie will be running the water again tomorrow. That is his role now in the team, to assist Jacques Nienaber as head coach. He will be there and he will be running around, bringing water on to the field to the players. We as Springbok rugby are happy with that.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times