Warren Gatland has been accused by a South Africa coach of “destroying the integrity of the series” between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions as the home captain Siya Kolisi confirmed Rassie Erasmus’s statement that he was disrespected by first Test referee Nic Berry.
Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick was speaking to the media on Friday on the eve of the second Test, which the world champions must win on Saturday evening to prevent the Lions from taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-Test series.
His comments follow a remarkable chain of events in Cape Town over the past 16 days since Lions head coach Gatland questioned a referee and TMO decision to award a yellow rather than red card to South African scrum-half Faf de Klerk for a high hit on a Lions player.
That sparked a back and forth with SA Rugby director of rugby Erasmus, Gatland getting underneath the World Cup-winning coach’s skin with his comments to traditional media outlets while the former Munster boss has been using Twitter and other social media channels to get his point across.
A week after questioning TMO Marius Jonker’s decision to recommend a yellow card for de Klerk in the Lions game against South Africa A, Gatland was reported to be “furious” at the late decision to install the same South African as the Test series TMO with the original and neutral TMO unavailable due to Covid-related travel restrictions.
The spat continued in Erasmus posting a 62-minute online video address on Thursday of this week, in which used 26 clips from the first Test, won 22-17 by the Lions last Saturday, to highlight how match referee Berry got decisions wrong while accusing the Australian of not affording Kolisi the same respect he gave to Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
That prompted a statement from Berry’s home union, issued on Friday, which began: “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.
“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.”
Yet speaking alongside Stick at a later media conference on Friday, Kolisi backed Erasmus’s accusations when asked if he felt he had been treated differently as captain and secondly if he was confident of being given an equal voice by second-Test referee Ben O’Keeffe of New Zealand.
"First question, yes, I didn't feel respected at all,” Kolisi replied. “I didn't feel I was given a fair opportunity. That's the answer to the first question.
"The second one, yeah, I'm looking forward to a new game and a new referee. I think Ben will give a fair opportunity for both captains and that's all we're asking.”
Answering a different question, Kolisi added: “I didn't feel I was given the same access to the referee and there is proof if you watch the game again, you will definitely be able to see. It has happened, there is nothing I can do about it and it won't change anything.”
Asked for the thoughts of the Springbok management team, Stick spoke at length on the subject of the integrity of the game not being upheld by Gatland and finished with his accusation about the Lions head coach and the dignity of the Test series.
“So if Rassie got into trouble for what he said on social media I think the gentleman that challenged the integrity of the game at the beginning when the TMO was challenged, I think that is something that really destroyed the dignity of the series, and it also challenges the integrity of World Rugby.
“It says a lot about the gentleman who was going to be the TMO at the time which was Marius Jonker, so I think that is where it should come from.”