The British & Irish Lions have been assured by second Test referee Ben O’Keeffe that Rassie Erasmus’ criticisms of match officials will not affect his decision-making in Saturday’s crucial clash with South Africa.
SA Rugby director of rugby Erasmus broke with long-standing tradition on Thursday when he released an hour-long video online outlining perceived refereeing mistakes by Nic Berry in last Saturday’s first Test and what he described as a lack of respect by the Australian official towards Springboks captain Siya Kolisi compared to that shown towards Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
The Lions won the game 22-17 and will return to Cape Town Stadium on Saturday expecting a backlash from the Boks as the tourists bid to close out the series with a Test match to spare.
Forwards coach Robin McBryde faced the media online on Friday morning and the first question he was asked concerned the unprecedented Erasmus video address, much of which was directed at World Rugby’s head of match officials Joel Jutge. New Zealander O’Keeffe will be in charge for the second Test, with Mathieu Raynal of France appointed to the third and final Test.
McBryde, the Leinster scrum coach, said Warren Gatland’s coaching staff had not discussed the video but added: “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 was asked if World Rugby should sanction Erasmus for his comments about match officials and referenced a book he was reading as giving an insight into the South African’s motivations ahead of this pivotal second Test.
“That's up to World Rugby really, it's not for me to comment on that.
“The only thing I have is that I've read a book 'Ja-Nee', which gives you an insight from a South African perspective on the 1974 Lions trip. They lost the first Test and it's a book by Dugald Macdonald.
“And that was enough of an insight from a South Africa point of view for me basically with regards to what the second Test means to them as a nation. They're a very proud nation who will be looking to come out with all guns blazing. That's what we're expecting and that's what I've been preparing for really. Anything else is not in my domain really.”
The Lions assistant coach also read a prepared statement at the media conference to clarify the status of fly-half Dan Biggar who was removed for a Head Injury Assessment during the first Test six days ago. Captain Jones said yesterday he was not aware his number 10 had a medical issue at all and had been training as normal all week, comments which raised concerns from many groups advocating player welfare with particular regard to concussion.
“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.”