Rassie Erasmus charged with misconduct by World Rugby after criticism of officials

Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, acts as a water carrier during the second Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium on 31 July 2021. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)
By Craig Ray
02 Aug 2021 38

South Africa’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, faces suspension from rugby after being brought up on charges of misconduct by World Rugby on Monday night.

Six days after a video of Rassie Erasmus highlighting in forensic detail the abject performance of match officials in the first Test of the series between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions appeared online, South Africa’s director of rugby has been charged. 

World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, has used the coverall clause 18 of its code of conduct to charge Erasmus with misconduct. It’s another firelighter thrown onto this blazing bonfire of a series that will almost certainly not be remembered for rugby. 

If this fractious, and frankly poisonous series needed any more venom, it came with charges against Erasmus. World Rugby rapped the Lions over the claws for criticising the appointment of officials, but only charged Erasmus. 

Last week Erasmus took the unusual step of releasing/leaking a video into the public domain where he showed, with clear footage, 26 crucial incidents that first Test referee Nic Berry, television match official (TMO) Marius Jonker and their assistants got wrong. 

The Boks lost 22-17 and Erasmus was exasperated and angry after a swathe of questionable decisions against the world champions. 

This followed the Lions’ management questioning Jonker’s “neutrality” before the first Test because he was South African. That was on top of Lions coach Warren Gatland criticising Erasmus’s role as “water carrier” for the Springboks. 

There is no doubt Erasmus stepped into uncharted territory because no senior active rugby administrator (Erasmus is not Bok coach) has so openly criticised and exposed poor officiating. By extension, Erasmus has highlighted the sport’s biggest issue, which World Rugby has failed to address — woeful application of the laws. 

Instead of using this as a moment for introspection and learning, World Rugby has predictably decided to throw the book at the easy target — Erasmus. 

“World Rugby condemns any public criticism of their [officials] selection, performance or integrity which undermines their role, the well-established and trust-based coach-officials feedback process, and more importantly, the values that are at the heart of the sport,” a statement said. 

The 26 glaring mistakes Erasmus highlighted are a far lesser crime than the fact that he exposed them, according to the supposed custodians of the game. “Do not criticise the officials” appears to be World Rugby’s mantra.

“Having conducted a full review of all the available information, World Rugby is concerned that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials,” the statement from World Rugby read. 

“However, the extensive and direct nature of the comments made by Rassie Erasmus within a video address, in particular, meets the threshold to be considered a breach of World Rugby Regulation 18 (Misconduct and Code of Conduct) and will now be considered by an independent disciplinary panel.” 

SA Rugby, Erasmus’s employers, said they’d noted the action by World Rugby, but would be making no further statements until the case had run its course. 

It was instructive that World Rugby declared unhappiness “that both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of the match officials” because Lions coach Gatland has tried to deny this. 

He stated after his side were beaten 27-9 in the second Test that he had not made any comments about Jonker’s neutrality. It was all semantics. He was not directly quoted in at least four major UK publications that reported his “fury” at Jonker’s appointment. 

World Rugby clearly wasn’t buying the Lions’ weak excuse either. The Lions’ unhappiness at Jonker’s appointment (a World Rugby decision) had obviously been communicated to selected media outlets without direct quotes from Gatland. At least World Rugby had the sense to see through that sham. 

But Erasmus was a much easier target to nail because he went on record and in front of a camera and was openly and vocally critical. It has to be said, he knew the possible consequences of his actions, which he accepted. 

World Rugby also stated that it would be reviewing its code of conduct and regulations in the wake of recent events. Erasmus has found a loophole that doesn’t preclude him from being on the field during games. He is not the Springbok coach and is therefore allowed on the field during games. 

“World Rugby has reminded the management of both teams of the importance of this area and their obligations regarding the values of the sport,” World Rugby sanctimoniously stated. 

“In order to protect the integrity of the sport and its values, World Rugby will also undertake a review of its Code of Conduct relating to incidents of this nature with a view to strengthening scope, rules and sanctions. 

“As with any Test series, South Africa versus the British & Irish Lions is a showcase of rugby that generates great excitement and interest, even more so at this challenging time for sport and society. 

“It is an opportunity for both teams and their management to set a positive example and concentrate on the spectacle and a wonderful example of rugby and its values at their best.” 

A judicial committee will be appointed shortly and a date for the hearing set. It is unlikely to be concluded before Saturday’s third and deciding Test. 

If Erasmus is found guilty there are a wide range of sanctions that could be imposed by World Rugby, ranging from a warning to his suspension from coaching or administration roles in the game. DM


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All Comments 38

  • I hope some representative of new modern rugby reads this.With your new laws ,you have stuffed up rugby.Bill Beaumont and Co your actions are a disgrace,you are more interested in getting rich than giving spectators value for their money.Instead of introspection, you “bunch of old farts”Will Carlings quote,you regroup.Defending dour , stop start aerial ping pong and countless reset scrums.Grow some canones.Onceyou were warriors,now being above the law as you don’t allow criticism of pathetic laws(to make the game faster,ha,ha,ha.)Furthermore the officials are not above reproach they are at times pathetic,applying laws so inconsistently that you would think there is corruption.Real rugby died long ago thanks to your pathetic rules.TV and modern techniques have shown you up for what you are.Even killing French flair!!!Atone you headless chickens!!!

  • About time someone stood up to the administrators in the face of poor refereeing. In the world of super slow-motion cameras there is no need for bad decisions where the outcomes of matches are affected thereby affecting the professional players. All the players need is a level playing field, no pun intended. Whether Rassie only picked the bad decisions went against the boks or not is not the point. Many were clearly just bad decisions. It seems clear that Berry also did not get back to the team in response to their queries timeously. I fully understand Rassie’s frustration. Frankly the players are the people on whom we place our respective national pride. The players are more important than the administrators as it is they that entertain us. They deserve even handed treatment by match referees, period. Why is this even an issue ?

  • What the rugby public demand, above everything else, is an objective and impartial game played between two teams. While the sweetness of victory is important, the bitterness of ineptitude and/or partisanship devalues the players, officiating moderators and the game as a function.
    I believe Rassie was justified although his response may have been heavy handed.
    I wonder if the “independent” Board enquiring into the matter will be able to make the same claim at the end?

    • With careers, sponsorships and so much pressure on coaching teams.
      It’s only fair that World Rugby acknowledges that professional rugby is actually professional. Bad decisions have lasting effects after the final whistle. There are options available to improve impartial officiating, use them! At least test them before introducing to top flight rugby but don’t just deny that there are problems

  • Who is really bringing rugby into disrepute: Is it Gatland and his subsequent lying about Jonker’s appointment; Is it Berry for his poor display and arrogance towards Kolisi; Is it Jonker for being intimidated by the pre-match comments?
    Or is it Erasmus for highlighting just what a weak trio they were?
    Beaumont showed his animosity towards South African rugby when he allowed the 2023 Rugby World Cup to go to France and this is just more of the same from him.

  • Unbelievable that World Rugby is more concerned about someone who pointed out how useless a referee is than the useless referee itself.

    Their concern should be the fact that match officials are not consistent.

    Makes me think about the ANC going after whistleblowers of corruption and not the corruption itself.

    Shocking really.

    • Totally agree. I’d be far more empathetic towards World Rugby if they simply acknowledged their shortcomings and stated their intention to improve. End of story.

  • What an absolute joke. The problems of officiating in professional rugby is the reason why I more often than not find watching rugby to be far more frustrating than enjoyable! Half of the time, I have absolutely no idea why a blow was made one way or the other…and I suspect the same is true for the refs!

    • Not to worry, you’re not alone. I’ve blamed myself for not knowing the rules but maybe I just don’t know why they’re blowing.

  • Please can we add the Rugby commentators to this “protection racket”!! There are skilled SA and international TV commentators who euphemistically go quiet when the ref makes a shocking call. They should also express their difference of opinion, be chosen and paid for sharing it, and live with it whether they are right or wrong. (Nick M provides a current good example)

  • Jcd below has said it all for me. I have been a rugby fan and enthusiast for some 78 years and simply cannot find powerful enough words to express my disgust at the actions of those running the rugby world and some players such as those who trip or kneel on opponents.
    However, the great tragedy is reflected is the words of my wife who is a mother and grandmother – ‘I do not want my youngsters to be involved in a sport that lacks integrity – especially in the leadership’

  • Rassie’s comments were without doubt what most SA supporters have been saying since our inclusion into the world stage.
    The harshness of sanctions against our players is ridiculous. Simply look at Bismark incident against the All Blacks….apologies after by the ref. Farrell tackle on Esterhuizen, which was diabolical….overlooked. Itoge kneeling on Damien neck, if that was in reverse there would have been a Global outcry….it will be quietly swept under the carpet. All SA (most) will thank Rassie for standing up and possibly take the sanction.

  • Go Rassie! The Brits, Aussies and Indians have already stolen world cricket. They consider themselves “super” and the rest is there for them to pass the scraps to. Now rugby seems to be the same. So-called world governing bodies are a bunch of wimps that are in the pockets of those out to make the most money. Let’s face it – it does not suit their plans that a little upstart African nation could upset their apple cart.

  • If WR are interested in preserving the game, and by definition the paying viewers, then it should embrace transparent and constructive criticism of referee performances. It is massively infuriating to watch inconsistent application of the rules from so-called professionals. As a start, how about publishing the referee peer reviews of each game? I would love to know what rating Nic Berry got for that first test. By any objective measure, many of his decisions were blatantly incorrect. Either he is incompetent or biased, in either case he should not be a referee. SA fans have suffered sufficiently, ala the Bryce Lawrence debacle from RWC 2011, after which he was awarded referee of the year!!

  • I wonder what their reaction would have been had the Lions won the 2nd test. Silence no doubt! Perhaps Rassie needs to highlight the blunders the world rugby have made over the last couple of decades in their efforts to “modernise” the game and make it more attractive to the viewing public. All they’ve done is to to introduce law after law that has in effect slowed the game down

    • I remember an incident where the ref told John Smith as captain of the Springboks to go and talk to his players, and while John was doing that, the ref allowed a tap kick and a try being scored against the Springboks. It was intolerable to endure and it was made worse by the fact that there were no appropriate consequences against that ref for bringing the game into disrepute by such insane officiating. The same lack of consequences happened to Bryce Lawrence for his shocking unfairness (possibly/probably corruption) and now Nick Berry being protected and supported by world rugby for his entirely inept execution of the refereeing task. They go for the whistle-blower and we in SA know how that protects the inept and the corrupt. I struggle to watch rugby lately, which I refer to as “Refby”, as the most important player on the field determining the outcome of the match, is very often the REF. I agree the game can’t be played without a ref, but the ref should not be protected from open criticism as it will protect the useless ones who bring the game into disrepute and it creates a contract of impunity which allows refs to not have to maintain high standards of fairness, correctness and consistency. It opens a window of risk that refs will be tempted to accept payment for determining the outcome of matches, while knowing that they will be protected by World Rugby.

  • I only have two things to say as I am neither a player nor an official.
    It seems that the powers to be ( world rugby board) are playing their violins while Rome ( rugby) is burning. The second thing is use your grey matter, that is why it was given to you! I didn’t know that biting as part of the game.

  • All Rassie needed to do was get “Jaco Johan” to make the video, then retweet/post the video. That would have got the Rugby Board knaters in a knot, asphyxiating their sycophantic referee body at the same time.

  • The decision to sanction Rassie by World Rugby is disgraceful and shows what metal they are made of, being unwilling to take criticism openly and accept that they are fallible and not some sort of rugby gods. Man-up you bunch of self-serving wimps and stop trying to shield yourselves from knowing what the rugby public really feel when inept officials make a mockery of a match with their poor on-field decisions.
    And well done Boks for putting the screws on the Lions last Saturday.

  • Rassie is a breath of fresh air besides being probably the most astute coach of his era, if not ever. I wonder if he was their (Lions) coach, what they would be saying then.
    The thread throughout the posts below is clear and almost all hardened rugby enthusiasts agree that the game is becoming diabolical due to the Invertebrates from the Northern Hemisphere along with some of their Antipodean acolytes.
    The grand mother (Thank you Wren Ingle) quote below is possibly the best reflection of the modern game currently ‘I do not want my youngsters to be involved in a sport that lacks integrity – especially in the leadership’, (that is besides Rassie!)
    Give that man a Bells!

  • I think there is subconscious bias in this refs head.
    How many times has bad refereeing been the difference
    In winning and loosing. Rassie we are with you 100%
    About time somebody had the guts to do something about this.
    IRB Clean up your mess.

  • I don’t discount the dreadful British and Australian media’s role in this World Rugby farce. If World Rugby is Donald Trump, Brit and Aus media is Fox News.

  • Test referee decisions have been a problem for years. Inconsistent and often subjective even personal at times. And nothing has been done about it. Shame on World Rugby.

    The idea that Test referees can’t be criticised is just ridiculous.

    Rassie has the right thing in publicly exposing this mess and I applaud him.

  • It is a sad indictment that so many of us are so very angry with the world, that we are unable to be objective, or just have an open mind about life, especially sport. Although desperately keen to compete with our ‘world champion’ status, the narrative has always been extremely confrontational; ‘expect to encounter uncompromising aggression’ blah blah. Undercooked through lack of game time since November 2019, not a debate. We have the bulk of the WC squad available and we know the game plan. No need to observe what might be played out on rugby fields around the world by our competitors since the WC; to the extent that the Blou Bulle travel to France in a North/South game to demonstrate who will be leading the new competition next season! Now conveniently written off, we got a rugby lesson from Beziers. After much to-do, the Lions arrive in SA for three Tests.

  • After the banter, game on, First Test. SA revert to 2019 copy paste ‘box kicking’ tactic, but with poor execution; to the extent they are unable to follow through with the next tactic, lineout win and rolling maul. World-rated wing Cheslin not a recipient of a single line movement, plays off scraps. Result: more anger and the ‘blame avoidance’, ‘victim card’ response from Rassie & co– response, enter the hero Rassie with his social media ‘whinge’. As an aside, do that at your peril if you are the Director of a Corporate without shareholder approval, otherwise join the unemployed queue!
    Second Test: a monumental unproductive bore of two halves of 62 minutes each! We are now reduced to ‘rugby’ players emulating ‘football’ primadonnas ‘milking penalties’ and arguing with the Referee? Don’t forget to feel sorry for Siya, the popular celebrity of the social set. Aside: what do you expect when you hoist a ball sufficiently close to the scrum, that there will be at minimum of ten players jostling for position in an attempt to field the ball? Organised chaos, pushing/pulling blah, blah. Only show of a ‘smart’ is when Pollard executes an accurate overhead crosskick, Try!!! Boks win, but more ANGER, the water ‘boy’ to face a disciplinary hearing. How dare they!? SA Rugby, like ‘squirrel’ hiding in a ‘meeting’?

    Meanwhile in the rest of the competitive rugby world, players are concentrating, and demonstrating skills where making or creating ‘space’ is the optimal achievement, and understanding that the ball moves faster than the man. This has been on display in buckets!

    Not a great place to be? Time for some reflection – use it or lose it, but have fun, die-hards.

  • World Rugby obviously have no respect for the people who ultimately pay their salaries. Hopefully the lack of accountability for poor refereeing and transparent feedback to supporters of rugby is going to bite them up the arse one day.

  • I fully support the gist of what Rassie Erasmus said on his monologue. The fact that the referee and other officials were so blatantly biased or completely incompetent is not being addressed adequately by World Rugby which is dominated by England. France and New Zealand. This poor performance by Berry is reminiscent of the pathetic perfomracne by the Australian referee in the World Cup in 2015. He cost South Africa the game and he then had a complete breakdown because he had been biased and millions throughout the world saw it. The First Test refereeshould never have been appointed. He is not capable of handling franchise matches let alone Test matches. Unfortunately Rassie is going to slapped with a heavy sanction and the surly Gatland will walk away Scott free.

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