Rassie Erasmus video raises hackles and questions: Opinion

Rassie Erasmus video

The Rassie Erasmus video released earlier this week has significantly divided opinion along national lines. Many South African fans are strongly in favour of what he has done. Outside of the Republic, he has pretty much been vilified.

Questions raised

Ryan Jordan does not make a judgment but adds context comments and questions. The video is included below for those who have not viewed it yet. It is long, but the detail Rassie Erasmus goes into is interesting. The timing is unusual. The time spent preparing this video was not insignificant, especially in the lead-up to a very important Test match. Erasmus is an innovative coach and is the owner of a Rugby World Cup medal. He does nothing he hasn’t thought through. The video is surely not the rantings of a madman. Something’s up.

Rassie Erasmus video:

Local response

South African fans have responded well to the video. Rassie Erasmus delivered South Africa a largely unexpected Rugby World Cup in 2019. He has also latched onto what is generally a very negative view in the country of international refereeing standards and consistency in applying laws. What he has done is attract a lot of home support paying attention to what he has said and diverting all attention away from the Springboks who are currently preparing for the second Test against the British and Irish Lions. There have been calls for Crowd Funding if the video does attract a fine for Erasmus.

International response

The response outside of South Africa has been very negative. Comments have been made along the lines of “Rassie Erasmus has lost the plot” and “This is not in the spirit of rugby”. Some have called for Erasmus to be banned. Many have called it a case of sour grapes after the Springboks lost to the Lions last weekend.

What could have prompted this?

There are a couple of things we can consider here. None of them are definitive, but the context is important.

Before we continue, let’s consider how well Wayne Barnes is remembered by All Blacks fans after his handling of the All Blacks vs France 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal. Scottish fans have no love for Craig Joubert after the Scotland vs Australia match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

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Springbok history with refereeing

South African fans will never forgive or forget Bryce Lawrence’s handling of the South Africa vs Australia game in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Romain Poite has a special, yet unwanted reputation with Springbok fans. His most infamous decision was red-carding Bismark du Plessis in the Springboks Test against New Zealand. He also did not endear himself yellow carding Willie le Roux in the 2018 game against Scotland for a deliberate knock-on from 50 meters out.

We can concede that refereeing is the most difficult role in the game. What we cannot forget though is that it is a professional role that has a direct impact on a professional game.

Warren Gatland – Tit for Tat

The genesis of the Rassie Erasmus video may be found in Warren Gatland’s own media outbursts. No questions were asked when he demanded “clarity” from World Rugby regarding the Faf de Klerk tackle in the SA “A” match against the Lions. He also made comments when Erasmus acted as a water-boy in the first Test. He was very vocal when Marius Joubert took over TMO duties after New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerell was unable to take up his appointed role due to COVID restrictions, citing a perceived bias.

Many have stated that Gatland could respond with a video of his own, picking apart the officiating team’s mistakes that favoured the Springboks. But that is exactly the point that Erasmus appears to be making. Take the issues he has raised and multiply those by two and then you see the enormity of the issue.

“Rassie Erasmus is right but should have not made the video”

This is an interesting narrative doing the rounds. There are rugby pundits around who feel that Erasmus does raise valid points. It is the format he used to raise his concerns that is the problem. The counter to that would probably be that the official channels deliver very little results and if there is a result, it is weak and hidden behind a cloak of secrecy.

World Rugby did themselves no favours

World Rugby is notoriously slow in responding to questions. Their response rate to anything that may harm their self-managed image is phenomenal though. Public criticism, from whichever country, player or coach is not accepted. That was fine and well in the amateur era. Is it still relevant in the professional era? This is especially true if criticism is backed up by facts.

World Rugby has already stepped into Erasmus’s trap. They have released the following statement:

“World Rugby notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus. The nature of these will be raised with the union via the usual official channels and no further comment will be made at this stage”

But what of Gatland’s outburst regarding a South African referee being appointed as the TMO for the series? His public comments about Erasmus being allowed to act as a waterboy? His public “requests for clarity” regarding the Faf de Klerk tackle that was not carded? Although Gatland has not gone to the lengths that Erasmus went to, he did publicly question World Rugby’s decisions and officials with no response forthcoming. World Rugby is walking on a tight-rope that Erasmus has invited them to step onto.

Another Rugby World Cup-winning captain weighed in on the conversation. John Smit agreed that Siya Kolisi was marginalized in the first Test.

Then we have this:

History will be the judge

Whatever opinion anyone may have, history will ultimately judge Erasmus. If the video is the sum total of Erasmus’s message, he won’t be remembered well. He does have a history of innovation and surprises though. Immediately ruling out a much bigger picture would be folly.

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