Cape Town – As expected, World Rugby threw the book at Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby about the infamous 62-minute video on the first Test between the Springboks and British and Irish Lions.
We could debate the merits and demerits of the quite harsh sanctions all day long, and whether Erasmus should be punished for the video being distributed into the public domain, even though it is not “clear and obvious” – to use a rugby term – that the SA director of rugby was the one to do so.
But what about the actual content of the clips?
The supposed independent panel that meted out sanctions to Erasmus and SA Rugby on Wednesday did not look at the very reasons for holding the misconduct hearing in the first place – the many questionable decisions made by referee Nic Berry at Cape Town Stadium on July 24.
At least the Australian himself responded to Erasmus’ video on pages 68-70 of the full report of the World Rugby panel decision.
There were 36 video clips that Berry replied to, and guess what – he agreed with Erasmus on 17 of those, while he either disagreed or explained his decision on the 19 other incidents highlighted by the SA director of rugby.
Even World Rugby head of referees, Frenchman Joel Jutge, commended Erasmus and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber on the video in an email exchange, stating: “Rassie, Jacques, Thanks for your relevant clips and explanations. It’s a big and good work.”
Yet, now Erasmus has been ordered to provide a “full public apology” to Berry and his fellow match officials from the first Lions Test within 14 days – although he and SA Rugby have said that they are appealing the sanctions.
And it doesn’t end with the refereeing decisions. A really important issue was that Kolisi felt he was treated unfairly by Berry during the match, something which Erasmus also highlighted in the video.
“When Siya spoke to the referee and when Alun (Wyn Jones, Lions captain) spoke to the referee, I just felt the reactions on how they treated both those players was totally… there was a vast difference between who he was taking serious and who he wasn’t taking serious. I might just play this for you and talk you through it…” Erasmus said on the video.
“…It is almost like he is having a laugh at Siya and saying to him: ‘Yeah, it was knock-on, it is only a knock-on’. He is actually laughing at Siya now.”
Kolisi himself responded to questions about the incident, during a press conference ahead of the second Lions Test: “I didn’t feel respected at all, I didn’t feel a fair – I was given a fair opportunity… I didn’t get given the same access to the referee, and there’s proof.
“If you watch the game again, you’ll definitely be able to see yourself. Yeah, I don’t want to speak too much about that because it has already happened, there’s nothing I can do about it, it’s not going to change anything.”
The World Rugby Judicial Committee, though, almost dismiss Kolisi’s views on the matter.
“It is important to appreciate that what Siya Kolisi did in his answer was to express his own feelings or belief. Observing from a distance – which is all we can do – Siya Kolisi is a deeply impressive individual who leads the Springbok team with distinction. We have no reason to doubt the genuineness of his feelings. However, that is not the same as asserting as a fact that he had been disrespected, nor that those feelings are correct,” the report states.
“During his evidence. Nic Berry told us that he had ‘massive respect’ for Siya Kolisi as a person and as a player. So concerned was he by the reported feelings of unfair treatment, that at the second Test he sought him out and apologised if he had done anything which created the contrary impression.
“We accept without reservation Nic Berry’s evidence that he, and his officiating team, did not intentionally disrespect Siya Kolisi.”
But how can World Rugby determine if Kolisi’s feelings are “correct”? The fact is that Kolisi was made to feel that way by Berry’s conduct and approach towards him, so whether it was intentional or not, that was how the Bok No 6 interpreted it.
Yet the World Rugby panel was quick to state Berry’s unhappiness about Erasmus’ conduct and the effect it has had on him personally and professionally. Berry said that Erasmus “engaged in a character assassination of me on social media”, and that “my reputation throughout the rugby community has suffered immeasurably from his actions”.
“There is a human element to this case which we have been concerned not to lose sight of. While RE and SARU concentrated their attentions on the treatment of Siya Kolisi, it is Nic Berry who was vilified in the Erasmus video,” the World Rugby decision reads.
“We had over an hour to observe and to listen to Nic Berry, as his account was tested and challenged before us. We had no hesitation in accepting his evidence. It was measured and he made concessions where appropriate.
“He had no motive to lie, exaggerate or mislead. We were impressed by his quiet dignity, humility, and the restraint he showed during his evidence.
“We also accept without reservation that what he endured because of the publication of the Erasmus video has had a profound effect upon him… No further words from us are necessary. That is the human cost of RE’s conduct. It is that cost which he and SARU have yet to acknowledge.”
Why isn’t the same courtesy and care afforded to Kolisi’s feelings? Why wasn’t his testimony “accepted” in the same manner as Berry’s?
So, the least Berry could do is to also publicly apologise to Kolisi for the way he treated him, and to Erasmus and the Boks for the mistakes he made during the game, which certainly played a role in South Africa’s 22-17 defeat…