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Erasmus alleges Watson wasn't the only spear tackle Lions player

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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Potentially dangerous foul play by the Lions was highlighted in the fascinating 26-clip, hour-long first Test video review compiled by Rassie Erasmus, the Springboks director who was left fuming that Hamish Watson wasn’t yellow carded for spear tackling Willie le Roux in the second half while also highlighting a similar type first-half tackle from Duhan van der Merwe that was missed at the time by the officials. 


Erasmus, who is now under investigation by World Rugby following his trenchant criticism of last weekend’s refereeing, was disappointed that referee Nic Berry and his team of officials weren’t more vigilant in policing a type of tackle that was infamously stitched into the Lions tapestry in 2005 when Brian O’Driscoll was upended by All Blacks duo Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu.  

Neither All Blacks player was sanctioned for that first-minute incident in Christchurch which tossed Lions skipper O’Driscoll out of the Test series, a lack of punishment that left tour boss Clive Woodward raging and embarking on a high profile PR campaign to highlight what he felt was a lack of fair play. 

Video Spacer

Rassie Erasmus’ spectacular 26-clip, hour-long criticism of the first Test officials
Video Spacer
Rassie Erasmus’ spectacular 26-clip, hour-long criticism of the first Test officials

This pressure on officialdom had no influence on that Test series outcome, the Lions going on to lose 3-0, but the table have now turned 16 years later with Erasmus playing the role of Woodward as the Springboks seek to save the series this weekend following last weekend’s 22-17 first Test loss.

One of the major debates sparked by last Saturday’s clash in Cape Town was how Lions replacement Watson escaped a second-half yellow card just minutes after he was introduced for Tom Curry. There was a general acceptance that referee Berry had made an error with Nigel Owens, the centurion Test referee, even commentating on Sky Sports that the wrong call had been made.

However, Erasmus’ must-watch Lions review also referenced the first-half lift by van der Merwe that had gone unnoticed during the game with play allowed to continue. “We feel it is a similar action but he [Berry] feels there isn’t enough force for it to be a penalty. If you look at (Makazole) Mapimpi here, Duhan van der Merwe is coming from offside. He can’t come in from that side, that is the first offence, and then the second offence is picking up both legs of Mapimpi and driving him into the ground. If that is allowed and you can do it, by all means just tell us. 


“We would have loved to hear this on Sunday night and then we could have practised that on Monday or Tuesday… but according to me this is very dangerous. Duhan picks him up and he is horizontal and he gets driven into the ground. I don’t think he can be in a worse position when it comes to that, but again the feedback is it’s not that bad according to Nic.”

Erasmus had earlier outlined his disgust that Watson was allowed to play on after a penalty was only awarded against him for his foul tackle on le Roux. “Here is a debate that is baffling,” reckoned Erasmus, playing through the footage. “The score was 19-17 and this is the 63 minute of the game. 

“Willie catches the ball and Hamish Watson gets him. I don’t think that anybody can argue, he took him beyond the 90 and Willie landed on his shoulder/back, could have landed on his neck. I’m not saying it should be a red card but I can see nothing less than a yellow card here. I haven’t seen one incident like this in the last five years where a player has got away with less than a yellow card here. 

“If you look at the reaction and the respect the referee shows towards the South African players compared to the Lions players, which we actually prior to the game discussed to the referees and asked just give both teams the same amount of respect, you can see all of our players appealing and immediately recognising this is a dangerous tackle. 


“Nic sees it and he gives an advantage for that and then he just calmly says there is a bit of a leg lift. He referred it back to the TMO Marius Jonker, which is the person that Warren Gatland had openly put so much pressure on during the week. Knowing Marius and knowing the laws that should definitely be a yellow card. 

“On minute 63 it means in the next 17 minutes they will play six or seven minutes with 15 men on the field, which is the way the law should be refereed. The wording is a little bit of a leg lift and they talk through it. 

“Willie stays down like all the players in the world do after they have received a spear tackle and then eventually he just gives a penalty and I think the whole world knows that that should be a yellow card. You see it in slow motion, he lifts him beyond the horizontal and he drives him into the ground. That is a weird one.”


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