So, World Rugby has shot the messenger. Rassie Erasmus’s now infamous video pointing out the myriad faults of referee Nic Berry in the first Test against the Irish and British Lions has seen him severely punished for bringing the game into disrepute.
Known for being amazingly innovative with his coaching, this arguably wasn’t Erasmus’ best attempt at trying something different. The 62-minute leaked video of the Springbok director of rugby pointing out 36 errors by the Australia ref and the touch judges was the subject of a World Rugby disciplinary process that has seen Erasmus banned for 10 months. Think of it like a whistleblower pointing out how unethical a big company is – only to be persecuted for it.
Poor Nic Berry, who complained that his reputation had been sullied. Amazingly he isn’t mortified that he made these 36 errors, some of which were pretty blatant. The most egregious of which was the insulting way he gave Springbok captain Siya Kolisi short shift, clearly disrespecting the country’s first black rugby captain. Meanwhile Berry practically fawned on (admittedly legendary) player Alan Wyn Jones. Did Berry apologise for this?
Both World Rugby and Berry have missed the point of the real outrage: that the referee in a crucial game of rugby – in a series that only happens every four years – made 36 mistakes, some of which arguably changed the course of the game; and might have changed the outcome of the entire series.
Instead, World Rugby has shot the messenger. It’s a disgrace. DM sports editor Craig Ray has pointed out all the ironies and travesties of this shameful demonstration of a sports organisation refusing to deal with the real issues.
This is supposed to be a technology column, so before my editors get the “moer in,” let’s discuss how technology can change a sport.
Rugby is pretty advanced amongst the top-tier sports for its willingness to try new technology. The television match official (TMO) was a breakthrough that allowed slow-motion footage to help with disputed tries and knock-ons.
Football, which employs would-be Hollywood actors who have perfected “diving” for a penalty, reluctantly started using video footage. I am no fan of the mindless dullness of soccer, and my irritation with the supposedly beautiful game has intensified over the years watching players milking penalties, hobbling around or being stretchered off the pitch. Then, after the penalty was awarded, they make a miraculous recovery just minutes later. Some football leagues stopped putting the video replays up on the stadium’s big screen because it showed the angry fans just how blatant the offending player’s offensive dive was.
Eventually the football establishment seemed to notice that the game was becoming more of a staged wrestling match than a game of skill and finesse. Now the replays can be seen on the screen, but the practise still happens – just watch any high-level game of soccer.
Rugby is now in the same position. On the big screen the world can see the mistakes that the ref is making but World Rugby is up in arms because Rassie Erasmus has pointed out these obvious mistakes.
Do they rectify the obvious errors in the applications of the rules of rugby? Or do they shoot the messenger?
It’s all there, up on the big stadium screen called the internet. All World Rugby has to do is look for it.
This article first appeared in the Daily Maverick.