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Rassie Erasmus Ban: World Rugby stuck in the dark ages despite embracing game-changing technology

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

So, World Rugby has shot the messenger. Rassie Erasmus’s now infamous video pointing out the myriad faults of referee Nic Berry in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions has seen him severely punished for bringing the game into disrepute.

Known for being amazingly innovative with his coaching, this arguably wasn’t Erasmus’s best attempt at trying something different. The 62-minute leaked video of the Springbok director of rugby pointing out 36 errors by the Australia ref and the touch judges was the subject of a World Rugby disciplinary process that has seen Erasmus banned for 10 months. Think of it like a whistleblower pointing out how unethical a big company is – only to be persecuted for it.

Poor Nic Berry, who complained that his reputation has been sullied. Amazingly, he isn’t mortified that he made those 36 errors, the most egregious of which was the insulting way he gave Springbok captain Siya Kolisi short shrift, clearly disrespecting the country’s first black rugby captain, while practically fawning on (admittedly legendary) player Alun Wyn Jones. Did Berry apologise for that?

Both World Rugby and Berry have missed the point of the real outrage: that the referee in a crucial game of rugby – in a series that only happens every four years – made 36 mistakes, some of which arguably changed the course of the game; and might have changed the outcome of the entire series.

Instead, World Rugby has shot the messenger. It’s a disgrace. DM168 sports editor Craig Ray has pointed out all the ironies and travesties of this shameful demonstration of a sports organisation refusing to deal with the real issues.

This is supposed to be a technology column, so before my editors step in, let’s discuss how technology can change a sport.

Rugby is pretty advanced among the top-tier sports for its willingness to try new technology. The television match official (TMO) was a breakthrough that allowed slow-motion footage to help with disputed tries and knock-ons.

Football, which employs would-be Hollywood actors who have perfected “diving” for a penalty, has reluctantly started using video footage.

I am no fan of the mindless dullness of soccer, and my irritation with the supposedly beautiful game has intensified over the years watching players milking penalties, hobbling around or being stretchered off the pitch. Then, after the penalty is awarded, they make a miraculous recovery.

Some football leagues stopped putting the video replays up on the stadium’s big screen because it showed the angry fans just how blatant the offending player’s offensive dive was.

Eventually, however, the football establishment seemed to notice that the game was becoming more of a staged wrestling match than a game of skill and finesse. Now the replays can be seen on the screen, but the practice still happens – just watch any high-level game of soccer.

Rugby is now in the same position. On the big screen, the world can see the mistakes that the ref is making but World Rugby is up in arms because Rassie Erasmus has pointed out these obvious mistakes.

Do they rectify the obvious errors in the applications of the rules of rugby? Or do they shoot the messenger?

It’s all there, up on the big stadium screen called the internet. All World Rugby has to do is look for it. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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All Comments 15

  • At last, an article on this soggy saga that is worth reading. Just wonder why it took DM so long to publish it on their on-line platform, 4 days since they published in the so-called 168 newspaper (a copy of which if have never seen, or will, as the closest P&P store that sells it at R25 it is some 100km away. Do not shop at P&P in any case). That being said, Toby, you are just 100% spot-on, although I suspect there are some DM readers that still maintain that Rassie committed a criminal offence, and called him a bafoon. And these include some sport writers of known (?) reputation.
    Reality is that the country (with their alliance country’s somewhere to the east of the Indian Ocean) primarily responsible for colonialism, where the queen must be saved by God, still try to rule the world, and doing their utmost to prevent South African’s to enter their country. Rassie, and all his fellow citizens, are simply outcasts, and has been for the last 120 years since the Boer war

  • WR are awful. No one is allowed to criticise their referees no matter how bad they are. Their intolerance is insufferable. So now we are back in the same position before Rassie spoke out. Poor refereeing tolerated and no action taken to clean up their own house. This is not going to go away. The rugby public want excellent refereeing and will get it.

  • The underlying issue is that the laws have become too complex, often requiring more than one interpretation, within an extremely short period of time. It is not impossible for a referee to be momentarily out of site for an instance of time, but required to make an immediate response. All first class officiated games are refereed by qualified and graded individuals. The referees have an official body that grades and appoints, or demotes referees. Nic Berry has played first class rugby for Australia, and turned to refereeing on doctors recommendations because of injuries incurred. Working his way through the ranks, he was nominated to referee in the 2019 World Cup. Blindly partisan Bok supporters are all experienced rugby law experts with a persecution complex . . . Get a life!
    Rassie is an employee of SARugby and like in any commercial corporate environment, if you take matters into your own hands, you must be able to accept the consequences of your decisions.

    • Despite all your fawning praise of Berry, he still made the mistakes, which you cannot deny or cover up. Being a good player does not automatically make you a good referee. Also his treatment of Siya Kolisi smacks of racism, an area where the Aussies excel.

    • Get a life? Gosh, Mr 0549, or shall I say agent 0549, you comment is exactly the same as 2 weeks or so ago on another article, thus a simple copy and paste. You are obviously an Aussie, or have close links. This article is about technology available to referees. Mr. Superhero Berry failed to use the technology available in at least half of the 36-odd wrong decisions he made, in just one match!
      Blindly partisan Bok supporters? Every country in the world has its supporters, also blind to their own teams mistakes. But agent 0549, most sport journalists from New Zealand (even though 2 people on the jury panel came from NZ), France, and even some from Scotland also believe WR got this one wrong, or at least have been extremely harsh. The exception is of course Australia and England, the last remains if the British empire, although they still think they are. Mr Berry’s cry baby evidence was to say the least in poor taste, just as bad as his decisions were. But it reminds me of two other Australians, namely Steve Smith (Captain) and David Warner (vice-Captain) whom also cried and cried in front of the Australian press following the sandpapergate cricket scandal. They got a ban of one year, when it should have been for life, and now Smith is again vice-captain. And the most recent one, Tim Paine, also Captain, and the sexting scandal.
      So agent 0549, do not make out that Berry is that good little boy. He was the only reason SA lost the test, and therefor we are blind with fury

  • I am South African. I am an ardent fan of the game of rugby, having played at high school and club until the age of 31. I enjoyed the camoradie and still have life long friends from those experiences. I have been fortunate to watch rugby in Europe and Australia. I watch different rugby channels and have a considerable library on the subject. Having watched Springbok players like H O de Villiers, Mannetjies Roux, Danie Gerber, the du Plessis brothers, Jacques Fourie and Jean de Villiers, and many others, I do not agree that our claimed DNA is all about ‘fizzy-cality’ forward play. Above all I have an open mind about the game (and life), and refrain from judging people because of where they came from, and the fact that they made mistakes in their lives. Must be nice to be perfect Coen!?

    • Gavin, in the world of professional sport, mistakes are very costly, and not just in terms of results. The mistakes made by individuals mentioned in my reply are not common mistakes, it were deliberate action (including that of the referee Berry). I have also condemned Hansie Cronje years ago, a mistake that might have (will we ever know) cost him his life. I have also condemned the blade runner, Pistorius, as well as several South African’s that were involved in cricket match fixing. I maintain my view that Toby’s article is spot on. Rassie tried alternative action before he made his video, including discussions with Berry, other match officials, and WR. , and it was ignored. Will ignore your last sentence, as it appears to be in contrast with what you said in the previous sentences.

  • People are entitled to their opinion, absolutely no issue. They should back those opinions with some factual evidence.
    You claim referee Nic Berry’s mistakes were ‘deliberate’. Where is your evidence. What did he personally have to gain from this?
    You claim Rassie only made the video after a process of communication with the referee, other officials, and World Rugby. Are you sure that this statement if the truth, able to back with evidence?
    We have all watched the technology available on the match day ‘big screen’ and how many different ‘angles’ of the supposed infringement are available. In many instances these different angles offer ‘more’ or ‘less’ evidence of the supposed infringement!? The referee then makes a judgement call based on his interpretation, normally after some collaboration with the line judges and TMO. Depending on which team you support, starts the debate, too often ‘blind with fury’. Who would want to be referee??
    Anyway, you all have my opinion. I would prefer to move on.

    • Mr. 0549, I am not sure what your previous (10.59) diatribe is all about and what you are trying to say by quoting your earlier “rugby life”. I also played representative rugby, though at a slightly higher level than you describe and well remember the days before “electronic and TV refereeing”. We were happy with accepting sometimes inaccurate decisions, and laughed it off in the pub or change room afterwards. Also we were not paid such high, or any appearance money. But now that TV has given us the ability to identify would not even have been acceptable in the early days, i.e., the many mistakes identified through TV that Berry made referees must accept that their mistakes will be shown up and not cry about it. Also what about the fact that the Oz coach had similar things to say (though only verbally) as Rassie when they were beaten by Wales, but so far no no action seems to have been taken about him. Eddie Jones also said similar things about referees when England lost some years back, with a far lesser fine.
      All of this makes one think about impartiality, or perhaps the lack thereof.

      • Sometimes in life one fights a very lonely road. And South Africa, when it won the 2019 world cup, must have been one of the most emotional moments of my entire life. I simply cried and cried, and it just would not stop. And Rassie and his team brought proudness back into my life, especially as the politicians are trying everything to destroy everything that makes human beings loyal to their country. Due to politicians, and maybe other factors, the world has turned against us, as seen in the latest travel ban simply because our scientists are so darn incredible. In Rassie, I have seen power of conviction that I have never, ever, seen before in sport, and I am 70 years of age. Man alone he changed perceptions of racism in rugby, and appointed a Black captain, as well as other brilliant Black players, for the Springboks, a name so hated for so long by so many. And won the cup!
        Rassie, instinctively, knew there was something wrong in the way the game was being refereed, and he proved it without any doubt. The way it happened was perhaps not the right approach, who knows, but the fact that he is being crucified for pointing out the obvious is simply sickening. In all sport, not just rugby, the administrators try to be more important than the sport itself. In South Africa, the only sporting body with real integrity, …is in rugby! The hated sport! Rassie apologised, as did the Board. He, they, are strong enough to do such. But, he, they, are NOT the losers! Thx for your comment!

  • Thank you Coen & Mally. You have confirmed for me that since the day Rassie’s video went viral that no reasonable debate could follow. Your unwavering prejudice and brand SA Rugby is at an all-time low. Good Luck.