Warren Gatland refused to comment on any refereeing decision in the British & Irish Lions’ 27-9 second Test defeat to South Africa on Saturday as the Springboks’ online criticism of match officials took centre stage in his post-match press conference.
Lions head coach Gatland had watched his side fail to secure a 2-0 lead and series win over the world champions at Cape Town Stadium following a second-half meltdown that saw them outscored 21-0 having led 9-6 at the break. The series now stands at 1-1 following the Lions’ opening-Test win last Saturday and now boils down to a deciding match in the third and final Test next Saturday.
Of that, the former Wales boss said: “The second half, we just didn't get into it - no momentum - that was disappointing.
“The players are very disappointed and next Saturday is a cup final and that is how we have to look at it and prepare. They put a huge amount of emotion into that, but we have a chance next week to hopefully tidy the series up.”
Inevitably, given the refereeing controversy following the first Test after SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus posted a 62-minute video criticising last week’s match officials and referee Nic Berry in particular, the subject dominated Gatland’s post-match press conference.
There had been plenty to talk about from a tempestuous first half that saw both Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe and Springbok star Cheslin Kolbe yellow-carded by referee Ben O’Keeffe of New Zealand, while Robbie Henshaw had a first-half try for the Lions disallowed for a non-grounding and Lukhanyo Am’s second-half score stood when it was uncertain whether he too had downward pressure or control of the ball.
“I won't be going on social media this week and I don't want to comment on that as I will let other people take care of it - the last thing we need is a war of words and being accused of doing certain things.
“I didn't make one comment on the TMO (South African Marius Jonker), yet I was accused of questioning his integrity. We will keep things to ourselves.
“The game was very slow and they did a good job of slowing it down - it was difficult to get that rhythm. The ref was talking about trying to speed it up and it is something we will look at raising."
Asked for his opinion on Kolbe’s tackle in the air on Conor Murray, which could easily have been deemed a red card rather than yellow, Gatland replied: “I won't comment on the referee’s decisions. We will have our meeting and see what the assessors come back with in terms of their decisions. It didn't look great from where I was, but he decided it was a yellow card.”
Gatland then faced a question about the Erasmus video and said: “I hope it doesn't get to a situation where we end up with things on Twitter and not through the proper channels.
“I found it quite strange that approach was taken. It is definitely not something I will get involved in, it is important we keep the integrity in the game as much as we can.”
On the same subject, Gatland was asked if he wanted World Rugby to stop coaches analysing refereeing performances via social media.
“Look, I hope it doesn’t happen. We’ve got systems and processes in place and hopefully, World Rugby does look at that in terms of making sure that everyone follows the protocols and I think that’s important. We do press conferences and try and give feedback and information and we deal with the referees through World Rugby. That’s the process.”