The wrong person is under cross examination from World Rugby this weekend. Australian referee Nic Berry is the one who should be in the dock, writes Mark Keohane.
Rassie Erasmus’s World Rugby hearing this weekend for allegedly bringing the game into disrepute won’t quite be the showdown that brings the sport’s ‘Old Boys Club’ to its knees, but Erasmus’s refusal to play ball with elected officials will hopefully be the catalyst that finally brings match officials to count in professional rugby.
Erasmus took on the match officials after the Springboks lost the first Test 22-17 against the British & Irish Lions. Erasmus detailed 26 instances in which the Boks were prejudiced and in which the referee, the assistants and the Television Match Official got it wrong.
The video was sent to World Rugby’s head of referees Joel Jutge and to the referee in question Nic Berry. The video, through a leak, also went viral.
It is World Rugby’s charge that Erasmus took the video public and ensured it went viral and in doing so brought the game into disrepute.
World Rugby has appointed an Independent judiciary for the two-day hearing, which will be conducted via Zoom on Saturday and Sunday. It has taken World Rugby more than two months to get to this point and even before a word has been spoken in the hearing, the integrity of the hearing is already questionable.
The Independent judiciary is not really independent as those appointed all consult to World Rugby. They are on the books of World Rugby. It questions how they can objectively rule on Erasmus, who has been labelled the renegade and maverick of the game within the corridors at World Rugby.
The only way Erasmus can be found guilty is if the judiciary can prove without any doubt that he was the individual who intentionally released the video into the public domain.
Erasmus’s defence is that he sent it to the various people in an official capacity and he will list who those people were, including Berry and Jutge and that he never released it to the public himself.
This effectively is what the weekend will be about, when it should really just be about incompetent match officiating, the diabolical state of match officiating or serious questions being asked about the intent of match officials if they continue to get so much wrong.
What makes rugby union match officials any purer than match officials in every other sporting code, who over time, have fallen foul to the dark arts of outside influence, match manipulation, spread betting and sports betting?
Why has rugby union’s match officials always been beyond reproach and beyond question, regardless of how much they get wrong?
Human error, as an excuse, is not good enough in a professional sporting environment.
The match officials have chosen this as their paid career. Some excel and some should not be paid to do the job as their match officiating isn’t of the necessary standard.
World Rugby isn’t mature enough as a professional sport to go there just yet.
World Rugby’s elected officials still hold onto the amateur notion that the suits run the game, the players, like cattle, are dispensable and the referee is untouchable.
It may have been like that in the amateur era, but in a sport where billions of dollars govern the fortunes of teams and ensure the hosting of global tournaments, the most important aspect of the game has to be eradicating wrong decisions.
Cricket’s referral system, for so long rejected by the powerhouse elected officials of the game, has cleansed the sport of so much suspicion because it has gone a long way to removing human error, the temptation of outside influence and the wrong decision being made for personal or cartel gain.
I have no doubt Erasmus knew that the content of his video was explosive and that it would make its way into the public domain and that it would ensure focus on the match officials for the second and third Tests.
It had the desired effect and the second and third Test match officiating was among the most accurate I have ever seen. When in doubt, the referee went upstairs. There were equal eyes given to both teams and consideration given to anything that could be viewed as contentious and have an influence on the outcome.
The complaints from traditionalists was that a 40 minute first half took 62 minutes. It did but in those 62 minutes the decision-making was accurate and without bias because the checks were put in place to remove human error.
World Rugby’s elected ‘Old Boys Club’ went on the attack against Erasmus because he spoke out and they have targeted him with a disciplinary because he spoke out.
They have no desire to actually address the issue, which was that the referee got 23 instances wrong of the 26 Erasmus highlighted, and he did this in a Test match in which the ball was in play for 35 minutes. It means that he was getting it wrong every 90 seconds.
Berry was rewarded with further Test match duties in the Rugby Championships and hailed as one of the brighter young referees in the game. There has been no consequence to Berry.
The man in the dock this weekend is Erasmus, when the one who should have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute was Berry and his fellow match officials.
Erasmus won’t win his hearing because the ‘Old Boys Club’ won’t concede to such public humiliation but he won’t lose anything but his time for having to privately embarrass World Rugby.
Erasmus asked for the two-day hearing to be made live and open to the public, in the name of transparency.
World Rugby refused.
Good man!! Great coach!! 99% correct on everything !! 1% = what if the video was not leaked by Rassie 🤔 https://t.co/C7Mw5VkQIt
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) September 9, 2021