Warren Gatland pulls Joe Schmidt into Lions Tour refereeing drama
Twist in the tale.
Joe Schmidt phone calls with an unhappy Lions coach, just days before a massive Test Series. No-one saw this one coming.
Warren Gatland is pissed off that it has been reported how "furious" he was over the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as Television Match Official for the 2021 Lions vs. Springboks Test Series.
While Gatland and the Lions were not best pleased that World Rugby had no contingency plan when New Zealand's Brendon Pickerill was not able to take up the role (Covid-19 travel restrictions). While they portrayed that through back channels and some video conferences, there was no statement on the T.M.O call made to the media.
Still, it was reported by several outlets how unhappy the Lions were with Jonker stepping into the role. When those reports gained traction, some felt it was heaping extra pressure on a local official who had been placed in a tough spot.
As it worked out, Jonker ruled out two of three tries scored by the Springboks - on video reviews - in the First Test, and did not deem a Hamish Watson tip tackle to be a yellow- or red-card offence. In the Second Test, he recommended yellow cards for players from both sides, awarded the Boks a try after a video review but ruled one out for Robbie Henshaw.
World Rugby is launching misconduct charge procedures against Springboks director or rugby Rassie Erasmus for his actions - in calling out match officials - on social media and in a long-form video, but Gatland is not pleased at being tarred by the same brush.
"The only thing I'm disappointed about in World Rugby's statement is that they've kind of inadvertently dragged us into it.
"We've tried to, we think, maintain as much integrity as we can, in terms of we haven't been commenting on refereeing. We never questioned the TMO. The only question we asked is why hadn't World Rugby put a contingency plan in place if people couldn't travel or got sick.
"That's the only question that we had asked. So I'm really, really disappointed with a part of the statement where they've sort of said both sides have been making comments and being critical of the officials.
"I'd like someone to show me where we have done that. We've looked through everything and we can't see any instances where we've been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we've praised the officials."
Gatland says the Lions only discovered on the Wednesday of the First Test that Pickerill would not be in South Africa to take up the T.M.O role. His concern was that World Rugby had been aware of the travel issue for a week before informing the Lions.
Asked if he had requested a neutral T.M.O for the Test Series, Gatland said he had. It was then that he brought up former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who is now with World Rugby as Director of Rugby and High Performance.
"I spoke to Joe Schmidt who is involved to give me some clarity on the decision and just asking why plans hadn't been put in place regarding this.
"It's not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn't make it out here?
"We've had contingency plans for a couple of things in case things happened with Covid so that we'd be covered. So, there was no question about people being involved. What we questioned was the process."
The Lions, it would appear, were within their rights to question why the Pickerill situation had not been resolved, and was then kept from them.
They were not happy with how they had been left with little recourse but to accept Jonker, but it was unfortunate how this then spiralled into the wide-spread reporting that placed the South African under more pressure.
LISTEN TO HOUSE OF RUGBY'S LIONS SERIES: EPISODE 9