Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby perform u-turn, withdrawing appeals and apologising to match officials

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NOVEMBER 05: Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby) of South Africa during the South African national men's rugby team captain's run at Treforest Campus on November 05, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales - Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby perform u-turn, withdrawing appeals and apologising to match officials - GETTY IMAGES
NOVEMBER 05: Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby) of South Africa during the South African national men's rugby team captain's run at Treforest Campus on November 05, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales - Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby perform u-turn, withdrawing appeals and apologising to match officials - GETTY IMAGES

Rassie Erasmus, South Africa's director of rugby, and SA Rugby have withdrawn their appeals over sanctions handed down by World Rugby last week, and apologised to referee Nic Berry and the match officials who took charge of the first Test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions this summer.

Erasmus last week was suspended with immediate effect from all rugby activities for two months, from all match-day activities (including coaching, contact with match officials, and media engagement) with immediate effect until September 30, 2022, was warned as to his future conduct and was made to apologise to the relevant match officials for releasing a video criticising Berry and his officials following South Africa's first Test defeat to the Lions in Cape Town.

SA Rugby, meanwhile, received a fine of £20,000, was warned as to its future conduct and made to apologise to the relevant match officials.

Both parties appealed the rulings last week, before announcing on Thursday that both appeals had been withdrawn.

"SA Rugby and Rassie Erasmus wish to apologise to the match officials appointed to the first Test of the Springboks’ Series against the British and Irish Lions," read a statement.

"We also confirm that SA Rugby and Erasmus have advised World Rugby that they withdraw their Notice of Appeal and will not lodge an appeal against the sanctions imposed by the Judicial Committee.

"This has been a highly stressful and charged environment with unusual pressures placed on all concerned and we have no wish to prolong that experience for anyone.

"We have drawn a line under the incident and only wish to look forward. We will respect the outcomes of the hearing, allowing our national teams and rugby operations to plan with clarity for the coming months."

South Africa rugby fans, one wearing a mask depicting South Africa's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, watch a giant screen showing the Scotland v Japan match, ahead of the Autumn International friendly rugby union match between England and South Africa, outside of Twickenham Stadium, south-west London, on November 20, 2021 - GETTY IMAGES
South Africa rugby fans, one wearing a mask depicting South Africa's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, watch a giant screen showing the Scotland v Japan match, ahead of the Autumn International friendly rugby union match between England and South Africa, outside of Twickenham Stadium, south-west London, on November 20, 2021 - GETTY IMAGES

World Rugby also released a statement saying: "World Rugby welcomes the public apology from SA Rugby and Rassie Erasmus to the match officials involved in the first test between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions this year and the matter is closed."

Erasmus, as a result of his suspension, missed last weekend's fixture between England and South Africa at Twickenham, with the world champions narrowly losing 27-26.

The six charges brought against Erasmus included threatening a match official that, unless a requested meeting took place, he would publish footage containing clips criticising the match official’s performance and then making good on that threat, and for also engaging in conduct or activity that may impair public confidence in the integrity and good character of match officials and for bringing the game into disrepute.

SA Rugby, meanwhile, were sanctioned for not ensuring that Erasmus "complied with the World Rugby Code of Conduct and/or permitted Mr Erasmus to commit acts of misconduct", along with not preventing captain Siya Kolisi and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick from making "comments at a press conference on July 30, 2021 that were not disciplined or sporting and adversely affected the game of rugby".

Analysis: An unsavoury saga finally comes to an end

The withdrawal by Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby of their appeals, and their apologies to Nic Berry and the match officials who took charge of that first Lions Test in the summer, welcomingly bring one of the sport's uglier off-field moments in recent years to a close.

It always seemed unlikely that Erasmus and SA Rugby would successfully overturn World Rugby's sanctions anyway, with the governing body set on sending a message that abuse of match officials will not be tolerated and standing firmly behind Nic Berry and his officials. Berry's testimony, detailing how the public attack on my integrity and character" affected him, makes for uncomfortable reading.

Even if you sympathise with the frustrations of Erasmus regarding some of Berry's decisions - and the most absurd part about the saga is that at times Erasmus makes some strong points - the manner of his approach was always going to result in World Rugby dropping a ton of bricks on Erasmus and SA Rugby given his actions. The feedback system between coaches and referees is certainly not above reform. But this was hardly the right way to go about fixing it.

Reading the full written decision, it's absurd that Berry responded to Erasmus' email and commented on each of the 36 grievances raised, with Berry agreeing that on 17 occasions the wrong call had been made, only for Erasmus to reply to Berry with a brief response - "Thank you." - before the video critiquing Berry was then uploaded anyway.

While opting to appeal the sanctions handed down by World Rugby might have made sense at the time last week to save face, it really only prolonged the lingering bad will from a series which, the result aside, nobody needs to spend any more time thinking about given the bad blood from both sides off the field, the lack of home and away supporters and also the dour rugby, at least until the third Test.

What does it mean for Erasmus, exactly? Based on his Twitter feed he seems to currently be having a good enough time, toasting his Australian counterpart Dave Rennie in XiTsonga on Thursday with a couple of shots, after Rennie's own impassioned outburst against match officials last weekend following the Wallabies' loss in Cardiff. "Coach Rennie, this one (drink) is very cold and it’s waiting for you.”

Erasmus will not be present as a coach or on the touchline for the three-Test series against Wales next summer, along with the start of the Rugby Championship given his suspension runs until the end of September.

Both Erasmus and his successor as head coach in Jacques Nienaber transformed a limp Springbok into a juggernaut again, and the sheer triumph of what South Africa achieved at the Rugby World Cup and all of the positive stories which came to light about the Springboks in the 'Chasing the Sun' documentary should not be tarnished by what happened this summer.

And yet Erasmus's reputation has unquestionably taken a beating. The only solace is that the whole saga has now finished. "This has been a highly stressful and charged environment with unusual pressures placed on all concerned and we have no wish to prolong that experience for anyone", read part of SA Rugby's statement. Which, at last, is something we can all agree on.

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