Rassie Erasmus’ behaviour has made South Africa “so easy to dislike”, says Springboks great John Smit.
Director of rugby Erasmus has been given a two-game matchday ban by World Rugby for social media posts about referees, shortly after returning from a year-long suspension.
It means the 50-year-old, who led the Springboks to World Cup success in 2019, will not be at Twickenham for Saturday’s match against England.
“It’s hard to defend him,” Smit said.
The 2007 World Cup-winning captain told the Rugby Union Daily podcast: “The way he has approached this is not right.
“Are you telling me Rassie is the only coach frustrated by a call that has gone the wrong way?
“Something has to be done. There has to be a line that has to be drawn, and he is making it difficult for his team. It’s made us as, a rugby team, so easy to dislike.”
Erasmus was suspended for 12 months last November after constructing an hour-long video about referee Nic Berry’s performance in the first Test of the 2021 series against the British and Irish Lions.
Despite only recently completing that ban, he again took to social media following South Africa’s 19-16 defeat by Ireland at the start of this month, before posting a series of sarcastic tweets about the refereeing of the Springboks’ 30-26 loss to France in Paris.
Are referees reluctant to take charge of Springboks?
Erasmus’ conduct, and the frenzied reaction of some South Africa supporters towards the officials involved and their families, is in danger of leading to a refereeing crisis in the world game.
The BBC understands there are a growing number of referees who are increasingly reluctant to take charge of matches involving the Springboks.
The man at the head of World Rugby – chief executive Alan Gilpin – said the latest censure of Erasmus was about protecting officials at all levels.
“This is about every referee who is, on a Sunday morning, refereeing kids’ rugby anywhere in the world, having permission to do the job properly, and not having every parent on the touchline posting videos on social media,” he told Rugby Union Daily.
“That’s the really important thing in terms of the integrity of the game.
“The referees will be the first to tell you they welcome feedback. They are really up for those discussions with coaches.”
But Gilpin stressed the importance of that process being “confidential” so “candid” conversations could take place in private and not be played out on social media.
“We have to make sure we protect them in that sense,” he said.
“South Africa are a brilliant and really important part of the game across men’s and women’s, 7s and XVs. They are world champions and Rassie has done amazing things with that team and is clearly an amazing coach.
“But our view – and he may not agree – is that he has crossed the line. For us, it is really important we reinforce where those lines are, for everybody to see.
“Being a rugby referee is the toughest job in sport. Let’s give these guys, and the brilliant women who are doing that job, the best support and chance we can, and work with them for them to improve. And that is a responsibility the top coaches have got to take as well.”
While admitting Erasmus “doesn’t agree” with his latest punishment, Gilpin said he wanted to establish a proper line of communication between the world governing body and the South African Rugby Union, rather than a wedge being driven between the two parties.
“What is important is we are able to move forward in a dialogue with them,” he added. “Let’s have a discussion about why certain behaviours are appropriate or inappropriate.
“If coaches or other people involved in South African rugby or anywhere else don’t think the protocols are working, let’s talk about that.”
‘Men’s game needs ego check’
Smit, meanwhile, urged South Africa to concentrate on playing rather than obsessing with referees, and wants to see a “reset” across the board in how officials are treated.
“I honestly believe there should be a penalty for any player who thinks they can help the referee referee the game,” he said.
“The referees have to get control back. Everyone seems to think they have an influence over what the referee should be doing. When I was captain, when anyone else spoke they were disrespecting me, and the referee.
“Refereeing rugby is incredibly difficult. What we want is consistency and respect, and I think when we start giving that back to the referee the pressure will be off them [and they will] have more consistent performances.
“I would like referees to get back in charge and not have to defend themselves the whole time.
“Obviously we would all like referees to have perfect games every weekend. But I think it starts with the players. We have this very masculine, aggressive game in the men’s game, and you watch the women’s [World Cup] final and you don’t see any of that going on.
“Maybe it is time for everyone across the board to do a little ego check, reset the clock, and get back to what made rugby great, which is being respectful.”