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Erasmus fires back at 'quirky quotes' Vunipola after Kolbe lift

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Springboks director Rassie Erasmus has targeted Mako Vunipola in his incendiary hour-long assessment of last weekend’s first Test win by the Lions, issuing a stinging rebuke to the loosehead for his quirky description of his decision to lift Cheslin Kolbe up off the ground at a time when it appeared the South African winger had been injured.


Erasmus initially took to Twitter early on Monday morning to complain about the Vunipola intervention, claiming: “Cheslin is obviously played in the air and clearly not direct into touch!! More importantly for youngsters watching this clip!!!! Please never move or touch an injured player on the ground, it’s reckless and dangerous! Leave this to the @WorldRugby @Springboks @lionsofficial.”

Vunipola was quickly given his chance to give his reply, appearing at a Lions media session later on Monday where he stated in response to Erasmus: “I guess if he was really hurt then it was a bit reckless, but I just felt like the collision wasn’t that bad. I saw that people were putting it up (on social media) and mentioning it. We were behind at the time and I wanted to get some tempo in the game so I wanted to get the ball off him.

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

“If I did hurt him then I do apologise but in the heat of the moment, you just react as you would naturally. He seemed to be alright, he played on in the game, so it wasn’t that reckless, was it?”

Erasmus revisited the incident in his dramatic 26-clip, hour-long first Test video review which he filmed on Tuesday and seeped into the public domain on Thursday. The Springboks boss insisted the Vunipola intervention was the third wrong thing to happen as he was adamant that Kolbe was tackled in the air by Ali Price and that he also landed with his foot in play and not in touch as ruled by the officials.  

Speaking in his scathing review of the 22-17 loss by the Springboks, Erasmus said: “People laugh at this one but even at primary school level in South Africa we get told when a player lies on the ground you leave him lying like that until the medics come up. We have a programme called BokSmart which we follow strictly where we know when a player is down on the ground you don’t touch him. You actually leave him in that position. 


“Now for me, it’s actually incredible that three things in a row happened here. The first thing is without a doubt, I can show you three angles where Cheslin Kolbe was played in the air. There was no penalty or referral for him being played in the air, that is the first part. 

“Then in the second part, he actually landed infield and then he was taken out. And then the third thing, Vunipola comes and just pulls him up from the ground as if it’s just a doll which he picks up. If that was a serious neck injury or back injury I don’t think he would have laughed and had these quirky quotes which he currently has in the newspaper and which is all over social media. This shows a total lack of respect for the Springboks team. 

“Is it okay if any of the Lions players are injured Saturday and are lying on their back, will we just go and pull them up, say get up, you’re not injured? Is that the level of respect that is shown towards the Springboks if we show the same level of respect towards the Lions on Saturday? So three mistakes were made in this area. Played in the air, wasn’t out on the full… (and then Vunipola’s intervention).”

Erasmus went on to contrast the way Kolbe was manhandled with what happened to Faf de Klerk in the 68th minute when he tried to get his hands on a ball that was out of play for a Springboks lineout only to be held by Ken Owens and Maro Itoje.  


“It’s comical the respect the ARs [the assistant referees] and the other guys showed towards the South African players compared to the Lions players but I guess we saw that coming and we tried to tell the referees that but unfortunately it didn’t look like that worked.”


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