Cape Town — Captain Siya Kolisi insists the two-match ban received by Rassie Erasmus for his controversial tweets and videos won’t distract the Springboks in Saturday’s Test against Italy in Genoa (3pm SA time kickoff).
Erasmus, the director of rugby at SA Rugby, was sanctioned by World Rugby on Thursday for a series of posts on his Twitter account, in which he pointed out various incidents in the Tests against Ireland and France – which the Boks both lost.
While the 50-year-old former loose forward was at pains to point out that the posts were not intended as criticism of the respective referees in Dublin and Marseille, Nika Amashukeli and Wayne Barnes, and rather as tips for the players to improve upon and to help educate Bok fans, World Rugby were not amused.
The governing body said in a statement on Thursday night that they “condemn any public criticism of match official selection, performance or integrity, which undermines their role, the trust-based coach/match officials feedback process and the values of integrity, respect, solidarity and discipline that are at the heart of the sport”.
As a result, Erasmus cannot be involved in the Italy game or next weekend’s Test against England in London, nor make any social media posts about the match officials or speak to the media in that period.
Independent Media contacted SA Rugby president Mark Alexander for comment on the Erasmus ban on Friday, and he said that “I am busy in meetings and am unable to respond”.
Kolisi, speaking during a press conference from Genoa on Friday, was asked by Independent Media whether the Boks will be playing for Erasmus against Italy, and he said: “We’ll be playing for the Springboks. We are playing for South Africa, for the people back at home. We will be playing to win the game – that’s all that’s in our minds right now.
“And that’s all that’s been the message this whole week. This game came before everything – it was always going to happen – and that’s the most important thing.
“And like I said earlier: we’ve lost two games, and we can’t take focus away from that. The most important thing is making sure that we stand up tomorrow, because Italy are a very good team. They’ve shown that in the past two games that they’ve played.
“So, we are not going to let anything take us away from that.”
The Boks are determined to turn things around after their 19-16 defeat to Ireland in Dublin and last week’s 30-26 loss to France in Marseille, and while the Erasmus drama wasn’t ideal, Kolisi said that the players won’t be sidetracked.
“To be honest, we’ve had two tough games that we’ve lost. For us as a team, all our focus is on playing Italy – it’s a big game for us. We don’t want to go through three games without a win, and we’ve given Italy the respect they deserve,” the Bok No 6 said, with the Azzurri having beaten Australia and Samoa in the past two weeks.
“Everything about us as a team is focusing on beating Italy, because it’s been hard to do. As you’ve seen in their past two games they’ve played at home, they’ve showed what they can do, so that’s all that we’ve focused on as a team.
“Like I said, things happen. We as a team have to keep on doing what… Our focus has always been on the game, and that’s it – nothing has changed for us as a group. That is what we are going to focus on.
“It’s a big game for so many reasons because we’ve had two losses in a row, and we want to change that. We want to play for each other. Some guys are playing their last games, as they are going back to their unions.
“And for some guys, maybe this is their only opportunity that they’ll get before the World Cup team is chosen. So, there are enough things in the team that are already like – not pressure, but moments for players. We want to prove ourselves in this game.
“Anything can happen now… Our focus is still on the game. A player can go down, but somebody else is ready to take the opportunity.
“That is what we see this weekend as, especially for a lot of us. Maybe we don’t play next week and don’t get another opportunity. So, this is a big weekend for us, and nothing can get between us as a group.”