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17th Nov 2021

World Rugby judgement reveals Rassie Erasmus reaction to “leaked” referee video

Patrick McCarry

Rassie Erasmus

A fairly damning judgement.

World Rugby has suspended South Africa Rugby Director Rassie Erasmus from ‘all rugby activities’ for two months and from ‘all match-day activities’ until 30th of September 2022.

The judgement was handed down after a lengthy hearing, into Erasmus and the South Africa Rugby Union, following on from conduct during the British & Irish Lions Tour that World Rugby felt went against the spirit of the game. The main bone of contention revolved around a 62-minute video dissecting the performance of referee Nic Berry, which Erasmus claimed went into the public sphere [and went viral] without his knowledge.

Erasmus, the former director of rugby at Munster, faced six charges for various breaches of World Rugby Regulation 18 and World Rugby’s Code of Conduct. SARU faced two. After a long and considered process, all the charges against Erasmus were upheld while one of the two charges against SARU was upheld.

‘The Erasmus video’

Back in July, in the days following the First Test, which saw the Lions beat South Africa, a video was produced by Russell Belter for Erasmus.

Erasmus claimed the video was always meant to just be seen by himself, referee Nic Berry, Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber, Joe Schmidt (Rugby and High Performance Director, World Rugby), Joël Jutge (Head of Match Officials, World Rugby) and Jurie Roux (SARU chief executive).

Ultimately, the video was uploaded to Vimeo, not set as private and password protected. It was also sent to the entire Springboks playing squad via WhatsApp.

As the video, which featured Erasmus highlighting what he believed to be 24 serious errors made by Berry and his match officials, was not private, the link could be viewed by anyone that had it. It was only a matter of time, World Rugby concluded, before the video would spread widely. That us exactly what happened.

In its’ 80-page written decision, World Rugby included the following insight to Erasmus’ defence.

‘On the 28 July, Erasmus checked the analytics showing the number of views the Erasmus video had received. He does so as a matter of course as he wishes to check how many of the players have viewed such videos.

‘At 13.41 there had been 41 views in South Africa, eight in Australia, three in UK and two in France. When was he told this by Russel Belter he replied in a WhatsApp message: ‘Hoe de fok in Australia and UK?’ (Translated: ‘How the fuck in Australia and the UK?’). Belter replied: ‘Geen idee, die refs deel miskien jou mail’ (‘No idea, perhaps the refs share your mail?‘)’

It was noted that even after Erasmus expressed surprise that the video had been seen in Australia and England, he did not ask for it to be taken down or password protected.

South Africa Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus shakes hands with Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber in January 2020. (Photo by Johan Rynners/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Rassie Erasmus email shared during World Rugby findings

During the hearing, which Erasmus and SA Rugby wanted to be conducted in a public forum, and one TV company made an offer to broadcast live, World Rugby stated that a number of references were made in the video that made them suspect it was always the intention of the South African to have it widely distributed.

It included, as a way to back up that contention, an extract of an email from Erasmus to Berry which they believed was an implicit threat to go public with such a video. The email [in part] read:

‘Just a heads up from our side! We feel the pressure which the Lions attempted to put on your team of four through media did actually work well for them!! While we will be doing the same this week I think you will note that ours is more factual and honest!!’

While Erasmus, during his video, claimed he was making his observations in a purely personal capacity, World Rugby pointed out he did so while wearing Springboks gear and was ‘plainly doing so in his capacity as Director of South Africa Rugby’.

The findings of the hearing also show how stressful and disruptive the ‘leaked’ video and media, online fall-out to it was to referee Nic Berry and his fellow match officials.

Perhaps the most stinging comment in the hearing arrives on page 27 on the 80-page decision. It reads:

‘Viewed objectively the Erasmus video was an attack on the impartiality and the integrity of the match officials, which can never have any place in the game.’

SARU has stated that it will appeal the suspensions World Rugby has imposed.

This does not look to be the last of an increasingly distasteful matter.

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