Rassie's ‘theses' swings it for the Springboks, but by how much?
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DURBAN - IN 1512, a German priest by the name of Martin Luther nailed his “95 theses” to the door of a castle church in Wittenberg.
The maverick Luther was complaining about how the Catholic Church (poorly) ran its affairs and his revolt lit the flame of the Reformation and ultimately the creation of the Protestant Church. He was excommunicated for his “sins” but had made his point and profound change resulted.
Obviously, I have some tongue in cheek — but not all of it — when I suggest that SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has done the rugby equivalent with his rebellious video dissection of the inadequacies of the match officials in the first Test of the series between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions.
This was Erasmus making an explosive point to World Rugby that the officiating of games is out of order, and that decades of peaceful protest — coaches submitting queries after games through the right channels — has proved useless.
Erasmus is saying that nothing will change in how games are blown between the four white lines if nothing changes in the refereeing department at World Rugby.
Erasmus might well suffer some form of excommunication when his case is reviewed by World Rugby but surely his point has been made that there has to be greater professionalism in the choosing of officials, the way they are trained and the technology they use (by the way, what about introducing cricket and tennis’ ball tracker to rule on forward passes?)
Erasmus has done this kind of thing before, although not nearly on the same scale, and the reward was fair refereeing in the World Cup final two years ago.
Frenchman Jerome Garces had blown the Springboks’ opening pool game against the All Blacks and he defused the potent Bok scrum by getting his calls wrong.
Erasmus sat down with him later in the World Cup and explained his point of view.
As it transpired, Garces went on to referee the final and having had a different perspective explained to him by the Bok coach, he blew the scrums very differently and the result was wonderful to behold —for South Africans!
Erasmus’ latest “education” of match officials has once more worked in the Boks’ favour, even if meant a 63-minute first half on Saturday in which each incident of interest was painstakingly reviewed. But the bottom line is that referee Ben O’Keefe was praised by all for having a very good game in which neither coaching staff could quibble with the ultimate calls.
Here is a poser: How would the second Test have played out had Erasmus NOT leaked his video to the world?
Of course we do not know, but it is very possible that it could have been a very different game.
To cut to the chase ... How games pan out should not be influenced by intervention from the likes of Erasmus or the ultimate pre-match tactician, England coach Eddie Jones.
This kind of radical behaviour would not happen if the rules of rugby were much clearer, and the men and women tasked with enforcing them were better trained and equipped with better tools.