Former Springboks skipper John Smit believes Rassie Erasmus and his frequent criticism of referees is the reason why South Africa are currently so easy to dislike on the international rugby circuit. Having banned the South African director of rugby this time last year for ten months following a disciplinary hearing into his criticism of the Lions tour series officials, Erasmus was slapped with a two-game World Rugby matchday ban last week which ruled him out from working at last Saturday’s win over Italy in Genoa and this Saturday’s Twickenham showdown with England.
Erasmus had posted a series of sarcastic tweets containing footage of incidents from the Springboks’ recent losses to Ireland and France. He defended his messages from him, claiming they were designed to help South African fans to better understand the game. However, World Rugby didn’t agree and they banned him last Thursday.
Ahead of this weekend’s match with England, Smit, the 2007 World Cup-winning skipper, made an appearance on the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast and he hit out at the recent behavior of Erasmus following his return to the Springboks matchday fold.
“It’s hard to defend him,” said Smit. “The way he has approached this is not right. Are you telling me Rassie is the only coach frustrated by a call that has gone the wrong way? Something has to be done. There has to be a line that has to be drawn, and he is making it difficult for his team. It’s made us, as a rugby team, so easy to dislike.”
Also interviewed on the podcast was Alan Gilpin, the World Rugby CEO, and he explained why action had to be taken against Erasmus last week. “South Africa are a brilliant and really important part of the game across men’s and women’s, 7s and XVs. They are world champions and Rassie has done amazing things with that team and is clearly an amazing coach.
“But our view – and he may not agree – is that he has crossed the line. For us, it’s really important we reinforce where those lines are, for everybody to see. Being a rugby referee is the toughest job in sport. Let’s give these guys, and the brilliant women who are doing that job, the best support and chance we can, and work with them for them to improve. And that is a responsibility the top coaches have got to take as well.
“What is important is we are able to move forward in a dialogue with them. Let’s have a discussion about why certain behaviors are appropriate or inappropriate. If coaches or other people involved in South African rugby or anywhere else don’t think the protocols are working, let’s talk about that.
“This is about every referee who is, on a Sunday morning, refereeing kids’ rugby anywhere in the world, having permission to do the job properly, and not having every parent on the touchline posting videos on social media,” he added. “That’s the really important thing in terms of the integrity of the game. The referees will be the first to tell you they welcome feedback. They are really up for those discussions with coaches.”
Smit added that a stop needs to be put across the game to the increased amount of talking to a referee by players during a match. “I honestly believe there should be a penalty for any player who thinks they can help the referee to referee the game. The referees have to get control back. Everyone seems to think they have an influence over what the referee should be doing. When I was captain, when anyone else spoke they were disrespecting me, and the referee.
“Refereeing rugby is incredibly difficult. What we want is consistency and respect, and I think when we start giving that back to the referee the pressure will be off them [and they will] have more consistent performances.
“I would like referees to get back in charge and not have to defend themselves the whole time. Obviously, we would all like referees to have perfect games every weekend but it starts with the players.
“We have this very masculine, aggressive game in the men’s game and you watch the women’s [World Cup] final and you don’t see any of that going on. Maybe it is time for everyone across the board to do a little ego check, reset the clock, and get back to what made rugby great, which is being respectful.”
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