Springbok captain Siya Kolisi led the defence of Rassie Erasmus and Mzwandile Stick accused Warren Gatland of destroying the dignity of the series before a ball was kicked, writes Mark Keohane.
Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick was equally animated in his support of Erasmus, who was the head coach of the Springboks when they won the 2019 World Cup.
Stick held nothing back in singling out Lions coach Warren Gatland as the instigator of the media war of words between the two camps.
‘If Rassie got into trouble for bringing the game into disrepute because of what he said on social media, I think the gentleman (Gatland) that challenged the integrity of the game at the beginning when the TMO was appointed destroyed the dignity of the series.
“The video or the gentleman that questioned the integrity of World Rugby? That’s where we need to start, that’s what you should question.’
Kolisi, in fronting the media on Friday, had no hesitation in backing Erasmus and adding that he, as the captain of the Boks, felt disrespected by the Australian referee Nic Berry.
“I didn’t feel respected. I didn’t feel I was given a fair opportunity” Kolisi said. ‘Have you watched the [Rassie] video? Watch the video and we can speak about it. I didn’t feel I had the same access to the referee and there’s proof if you watch the game again, you will definitely be able to see for yourself.
Erasmus on Thursday released a damning 60 minute video highlighting 26 decisions that went against the Springboks in the 22-17 first Test defeat against the British & Irish Lions at the Cape Town Stadium.
If anyone wondered what impact or effect on the squad, Kolisi and Stick were a picture of unity and their words an emphasis that this is a squad united and defiant in their support of Erasmus.
This is also a world champion squad that knows they were wronged by the officiating but that they will have to play well enough to beat the Lions and whatever the officials throw at them in Saturday’s second Test.
‘We don’t appoint TMOs. And yet, that [Jonker’s appointment] was publicly challenged by a coach on the other side and to this day I haven’t heard any apology from him or his side about it and I haven’t read any statement from World Rugby,’ said Stick.
‘We’re not asking for any favours, we just want equal grounds. We are living in different times now. There are traditional media conferences and there’s social media, which is very powerful. I know there’s been a lot said between the Lions coach and our director of rugby, but all I’m saying is whatever Rassie said on social media, Gatland also said things in a media conference.’
‘What is right for one side, must be right for the other side. It can’t be a two-way thing, where one team is playing on a glass field and another one is playing in mud. Both teams need the same treatment and respect, that’s all.
‘There’s a saying that goes, the birds all make different sounds but they all come under the same bush. And that’s the point I’m trying to get across. Even if things are being said on social media or they are being said in a traditional media conference, it’s still the media. Both Rassie and Gatland wanted to get their messages across.’
Erasmus has ensured all the focus this week has been on him and the Test match officials. It has allowed Kolisi, as captain and Jacques Nienaber, as coach, to get on with week’s preparations without hardly a mention in the media.
Nienaber has made three changes to his starting XV & and Gatland has also made three changes.
Watch video: Lions legend Scott Gibbs and Mark Keohane preview the 2nd Test
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