Johannesburg – Last year, many South Africans rejoiced when South Africa’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, posted a video after the first Lions’ Test, cataloguing the errors referee Nic Berry had made. There was a very real feeling the Springboks were perennially on the receiving end of all the marginal (and often not so marginal) calls in a game, playing 16 players rather than the usual 15.
Erasmus was pilloried by World Rugby for the video and received an unprecedented year-long ban from the match venue for bringing the game into disrepute. He made the most of it, including engaging with fans in light-hearted jibes about his exile, posting other videos and tweets on social media.
But when he was allowed back, the videos continued. No longer “leaked”, they’re posted after each game, ostensibly praising the winning team and lamenting the Boks’ failures, only to directly refer with a pointed finger emoji to the accompanying video.
The selected clip shows the winning team scoring a try, but on closer inspection illustrates how the referee “missed” an infraction that should have disallowed it. It’s a dangerous gambit because those same videos often show up unpunished indiscretions by South African players.
But it’s dangerous in other ways. Erasmus is at real risk of ruining his deserved reputation as an acclaimed coach, highly respected Test player and astute student of the game by becoming known instead as a whinger, a tittle-tattle and, even worse, a cyber bully.
Theo Garrun, who has done more to report on school rugby than any other journalist in this country and was an acclaimed Craven Week coach for several years, provided a chilling insight this week into one of the less considered consequences of Erasmus’s actions.
The Gauteng Lions’ Rugby Union is running out of referees – and every other rugby union in the country is in the same position.
“Quality, experienced men are giving up because of the abuse they are getting at clubs and schools from officials, coaches, spectators, parents, players and even schoolboys,” wrote Garrun.
It’s so bad that some matches can’t be held on Saturdays because there is no one to blow the whistle.
“When the director of rugby sends out the message that referees are rubbish and quite possibly cheating us, then it becomes okay for everyone else to believe that too and take it out on the men who voluntarily turn up to handle the games at the vital lower levels,” Garrun writes.
Theo is spot on. He always is.
Erasmus’s response this week to the growing groundswell of unease at his social media antics was typical, tweeting: “Guys, please free to block or mute me, it’s really not a problem and better for our health!! Sorry if any of the tweets were offending you!! Also, if you don’t agree with my tweets, please ignore them and don’t use for clickbait, man. Use your own tweets and stuff. Don’t be a parasite. Lekka.”
But it isn’t lekker any more, Rassie, that’s the point.