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Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus's controvercial video c...

Sport

RUGBY: ANALYSIS

Erasmus has challenged an entire system that needs an overhaul

Boks coach Rassie Erasmus released a 62-minute video exposing and criticising abject officiating in the first Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions. (Photo: Johan Rynners / Gallo Images / Getty Images)
By Craig Ray
05 Aug 2021 16

Rassie Erasmus will soon face a World Rugby disciplinary hearing for comments he made in a video released (or leaked) on social media exposing abject officiating. Despite the irregular delivery method, it has brought the sport to a seminal moment.

Rassie Erasmus has won as many admirers as he lost friends for his clinical dissection of the poor standard of officiating in the first Test between the Springboks and the British & Irish Lions.

His 62-minute video has sent shock waves through the rugby world for different reasons. Those that believe it was time someone called out authorities for the continual mistakes, and even worse, the arrogant way in which World Rugby deals with whistleblowers, have found a cause (Rassie) to rally behind.

The establishment has found a cause (Rassie) to rally against because he, through his unprecedented actions, threatens the status quo. This is why World Rugby will bring Erasmus up on misconduct charges after the series is over. It was a move as predictable as knowing that there will be lots of box kicks in the current South Africa/Lions series.

World Rugby has a code of conduct and SA Rugby and Erasmus are bound by it. It has been breached and World Rugby will charge him or face losing their sense of authority.

Erasmus highlighted 26 mistakes in the first Test which the Boks lost 22-17. Some of them could be chalked off as “close calls,” but many were complete howlers that almost certainly played a part in the Boks’ defeat.

World Rugby says there are “channels” to follow for complaints. Those are the same channels the Boks followed in 2009 when Bakkies Botha was charged for a perfectly legal cleanout of a ruck and was banned from playing the final Test of the 2009 Lions series.

They are the same channels SA Rugby followed after referee Bryce Lawrence blew them out of Rugby World Cup 2011 and the same channels they pursued when referee Romain Poite wrongly dismissed Bismarck du Plessis in a massive Test against the All Blacks.

All of those incidents led to significant and costly (both financial and career-wise) losses for the team, players and coaches. There have been many other times the Boks have diligently sent video reviews to World Rugby requesting “clarity” through the “channels”, yet nothing changes. 

Einstein is credited with saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Erasmus is not Einstein, but you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that following the “channels” is as useful as a ship trying to pass through the Suez Canal when it’s blocked.

Erasmus, therefore, decided to bypass the “channels,” understanding that he was breaching the rules. But the alternative was doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome. He even explains that he tried to go through those channels on the Sunday after the first Test but ran into the bureaucratic equivalent of a Duane Vermeulen tackle. He got nowhere.

The magnitude of the Lions series coupled with the feeling of injustice that the Lions received no censure for criticising the “neutrality” of (TMO) Marius Jonker’s appointment before the first Test, galvanised Erasmus’s thinking. In his view, the rules were not the same for both teams. He decided to go public with evidence knowing the blowback would come.

SA Rugby, Erasmus’s employers, are by extension of his actions, also in the dock. They are already planning their defence and their plea.

Private Equity partners might start litigating

Bizarrely Marco Masotti, head of the private equity consortium MVM Holdings which is a majority shareholder in the Sharks, offered to help.

On his personal account, Masotti tweeted: I have a team of New York lawyers ready to take care of Rassie and SA Rugby. Let us put World Rugby on trial …” 

SA Rugby won’t be taking Masotti up on his ‘offer’ but the remark, despite being made mischievously on social media, was pointed and lifts the lid on a much broader issue.

Private equity firms, spending millions (billions in rand terms) investing in rugby teams and competitions, are not going to sit idly by if their “product” is ruined by poor officiating. Controversy and scandal might make headlines for a few days, but if the outcome of a match is not fairly decided by the players, fans will turn away.

When fans turn away, sponsors look elsewhere and ultimately it costs someone money. Increasingly that “someone” is a range of private equity investors who won’t be shy to use litigation as a means of changing the system to protect their investment. They are in the game to make money and anything that threatens that is a problem. 

Masotti’s tweet is an indication that they are not afraid to take on a custodian such as World Rugby, whose preferred choice is always to punish the symptom but not treat the cause.

“It was a playful tweet. But I want to make the serious point that World Rugby needs to deal with the issues raised by Rassie,” Masotti told www.sarugbymag.co.za (not an official SA Rugby site).

“We will not get the game to the next level unless we address the game constantly being stopped by three guys looking up at a screen that I can’t see, and sometimes getting it wrong.”

Yes, the global body will point to initiatives, plans and programmes to improve and grow the game, but the reality is, at elite level, it’s falling apart. Officials are being set up to fail by an almost impossible array of laws and grey areas in the regulations and then being left exposed when it blows up.

Referees are human and make mistakes, but they are also paid professionals like the players and coaches, who are called whingers if they blame officials for a loss. Like players, some referees are better than others, so why should they escape scrutiny?

Refereeing mistakes are part of rugby, but it’s not an excuse to shrug and go – “we’ll do better next time”. For some teams, coaches and players, there is not a “next time”.

The Lions series is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both sides to make history. It can’t be so heavily impacted by problems with officiating. It has to be decided by players executing their skills through well-prepared tactics and not by complete howlers from officials.

Rugby asks fans to invest heavily in the sport through their time and money and it asks the same of sponsors and investors. Erasmus’s bold move has asked the rugby establishment to reciprocate those expectations through bold actions to make results reliant on players’ skill and not the referee’s inconsistent interpretations. 

This is a moment for World Rugby to fix the cause that led to Erasmus’s video, and not put a patch on the symptom. DM

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All Comments 16

  • Smart, innovative, courageous man (Rassie). Seminal moment. Hopefully decisive, fair and courageous decisions are taken by World rugby.

  • Was wondering what he was up to. Brave challenge from a man with brains and fortitude. Is there not a place in the cabinet for him Cyril.

  • I would support Erasmus if he had submitted his video to Joel Jugte, who is responsible in World Rugby for referees. He is being censured for leaking his video to social media and if one believes that was not his intention, then one probably still believes in Father Christmas. I don’t think any lover of rugby will thank him if “a team of New York lawyers” gets involved in this fiasco.

    • Paddy,
      Whether you agree with Rassie’s antics or not, Rugby is in serious need of a re-think, this may be the last time anyone makes it so obvious.
      The point is Rassie is not even the issue here, professional rugby is in sh!t because it is not run properly nor professionally enough, specifically the board and the refs. It also has a very Anglo-centric approach to the detriment of everyone else that is not from the ‘Auld’ country, even their neighbouring cousins when it comes down to it.
      SA has always been the tail-end Charlie and the fact that we are so good (boring they say) makes them even more one-eyed than they are.
      The article above is spot-on, World (English) Rugby Board need to wake up or even the most ardent supporters will stop watching, never mind getting new viewership.

      • Prlupini
        Agreed, had Rassie gone WR he would have been stonewalled, Paddy obviously doesn’t get that that is where the problem, under the Chairmanship of Beaumont.
        Hats off to Rassie, he obviously has skin in the game and has a lot to lose potentially through his actions, brave man who has done taken an admirable stance.

    • Paddy, I for one would have no problem with a team of lawyers, from an investor, who has a vested interest in the good of the game, challenging World Rugby on the “untouchables” that refs and officials have become. Time to change this…and if thats what it takes…so be it. Let’s get the priorities right – and make sure professionals perform (and deliver) as such. There will always be mistakes – and they should be part of a review with the official, by both sides after every game, in person – but a litany of errors must also be addressed and corrective action/training/sanction must be imposed. Consistency is required, and there have to be far less blatant errors. A review and sanction process would do this – not via a channel to World Rugby which is a cluster it seems. But let the 2 coaches and the officials review issues together, each have their views documented against each point, and then report to whoever they need to. Something along those lines may work.
      It currently doesn’t, and Rassie may be the sacrificial lamb to change that,

    • He did try and engage Joel – without result. He said so himself.

      Paddy – I feel your view is partially correct in that the last thing we want is football/soccer style remonstrations with referees during the game. None of us want that – the current on-field acceptance and respect for decisions must be upheld.

      However, what we do want is a proper post-match review system that clarifies rule interpretation on the field and at the same time provides for censure of officiating referees and assistant refs where they screw up or show bias.

      And such a procedure should happen in a transparent fashion – unlike what goes down presently. These top refs (essentially a part time job) are all in the USD200k plus p.a. league (ZAR +/- 3,0 million) and there is no reason to treat their cases “in camera” and without visible sanction.

      World Rugby should remember that the fans are what they depend on for existence, not the other way round.

  • As an ardent fan of Rugby, I stand behind anyone who takes on the crappy level of game officials. Of course the Boks have had some lucky breaks and escapes, but overwhelmingly, European Match Officials seem to be biased against the Boks. Romain in particular is an absolute disaster. He is not fit to referee international games. He’s not alone though.
    It’s well past time for a shake-up.
    Go Rassie. Take them on.

  • Excuse my ignorance please.
    In case World Rugby is controlled or dominated by New Zealand, well.., going through channels will not help.
    It’s politics all over again.

  • Tolerance will reach such a level that intelligent people will be banned from thinking so as not to offend the imbeciles. ( Dostoyevski ).

  • The key is to simplify the rules. Just too many stupid rules that can be interpreted either way – it’s pot luck who gets penalized at the breakdown

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