Warren Gatland has warned that Rassie Erasmus’s social media outbursts could set a dangerous precedent and has urged World Rugby to act, following the British & Irish Lions’ second Test defeat by South Africa. Gatland’s side were comprehensively beaten by the Springboks after Erasmus’s rants at perceived injustices by officials last week provoked the desired response from the world champions.
The Lions led 9-6 after a first half in which South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe was fortunate to escape a red card after taking out Conor Murray in the air. Robbie Henshaw was also denied a try just before the interval in a marginal decision by the referee, Ben O’Keeffe of New Zealand, but the Springboks turned the screw thereafter.
The comments by South Africa’s director of rugby were perceived in some quarters as an attempt to influence the officials in the second Test but Gatland insists he will not follow suit in the buildup to next Saturday’s decider.
World Rugby said it had noted Erasmus’s comments on social media and in an hour-long video and that it was in contact with the South Africa union. Gatland – who refused to blame refereeing decisions, notably the decision not to show Kolbe a red card, for the loss – has called on the governing body to ensure outbursts like Erasmus’s do not become the norm.
“I hope it doesn’t happen,” said Gatland. “We’ve got systems and processes in place and hopefully World Rugby does look at that in terms of making sure that everyone follows the protocols and I think that’s important. We do press conferences and try to give feedback and information and we deal with the referees through World Rugby. That’s the process.
“I hope it doesn’t get to a situation where we end up with things on Twitter and not through the proper channels. I found it quite strange that approach was taken.
“It is definitely not something I will get involved in, it is important we keep the integrity in the game as much as we can.”
In an ill-tempered affair, both Duhan van der Merwe and Kolbe were shown yellow cards, while a high tackle from Faf de Klerk on Murray and incidents between Stuart Hogg and Willie le Roux as well as Maro Itoje and Damian de Allende were among other flashpoints.
Of the decision to show Kolbe a yellow card after Murray was planted face first into the turf by the challenge, Gatland said: “I won’t comment on the referee’s decisions. We will have our meeting and see what the assessors come back with in terms of their decisions. It didn’t look great from where I was, but he decided it was a yellow card.”
Having struggled in the second half of the first Test, South Africa were dominant, outscoring the Lions 21-0 after the break with tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am. Gatland said he would not be afraid to make changes for the third Test, conceding their second-half performance let them down.
"[En el] second half, we just didn’t get into it – no momentum – that was disappointing,” said Gatland. “The players are very disappointed and next Saturday is a cup final and that is how we have to look at it and prepare. They put a huge amount of emotion into that, but we have a chance next week to hopefully tidy the series up.
“We will do a proper review and look at individuals and do we need to make some changes. We have got lots of options in terms of bringing some guys in to give us energy or momentum as well. The game was very slow and they did a good job of slowing it down – it was difficult to get that rhythm. The ref was talking about trying to speed it up and it is something we will look at raising.”
The Springboks head coach, Jacques Nienaber, for his part, insisted that O’Keeffe and the South African TMO, Marius Jonker, made the right decision in showing Kolbe a yellow card only. “I thought it was the right call, a yellow card. They followed the process to a T," él dijo.
“Our leadership group was fantastic. I should give them my win bonus. I felt more of a facilitator than a coach.”