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'Exit rumours': Ex-Lions back on 'real' reason for Erasmus antics

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Ex-Lions player Austin Healey has floated an interesting theory regarding this week’s extraordinary outburst by Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus, suggesting that the 26-clip, hour-long critique of the first Test refereeing was a purposeful move by the 2019 World Cup winner as he wants to leave his job and switch to Europe.


The 48-year-old Erasmus, the current Springboks director of rugby, was capped 36 times by his country from 1997 to 2001, making his debut in the back row in the third Test of the already-lost 1997 series versus the Lions.

He since went on to forge a successful coaching career and was working at Irish province Munster when he decided in late 2017 to take up the offer to return home to South Africa as their director of rugby, going on to lead them to 2019 World Cup glory before handing the head coach role of the Springboks to assistant Jacques Nienaber.

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Matt Dawson on the 1997 Test series winning Lions tour to South Africa
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Matt Dawson on the 1997 Test series winning Lions tour to South Africa

Erasmus is currently involved in a caustic war of words surrounding the Test series versus the Lions and during his compelling video critiquing the performance of first Test referee Nic Berry, he offered to step away from involvement in the series if that was what World Rugby wanted. As it stands, Erasmus will likely still be running water for the Springboks on the pitch during stoppages of play in this Saturday’s second Test and relaying messages from the coaching staff in the Cape Town grandstands.

It has been a most unusual sight to see a director of rugby running water for his team but it is not against current World Rugby regulations even though the situation has been mocked by Lions boss Warren Gatland – and former England international Healey has now published his own curious take on the antics of Erasmus. 

Writing in his column in the UK Telegraph, Healey suggested: “As for Erasmus saying he will step away from the last two Tests if World Rugby want him to, I had heard rumours he was touting himself around Europe anyway for a coaching role, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the first stage of his exit. Although, if you are touting yourself for a highly paid role, your new employers are not going to be overly impressed with his antics this week, are they?”


Given the massive controversy that has been generated by the behaviour of Erasmus on social media, Healey quipped he was thankful there was no such thing as social media when a ghosted newspaper column landed him in hot water with Lions boss Graham Henry on the 2001 tour to Australia.

“I’m not saying I’m an expert on newspaper columns before Lions Tests, but I’m also not sure anyone has caused more trouble than my column in 2001 before facing Australia. Thankfully, there was no social media otherwise I would have been absolutely hammered.

“These columns or comments are only problematic in hindsight after the game. If South Africa lose, everyone will jump on Rassie Erasmus saying it is sour grapes and it’s a disgrace. If they win, everyone says ‘well done Rassie, you have brought it to the attention of the officials, great coaching’. I didn’t even write my column back ahead of that 2001 Test, Eddie Butler did because I was in hospital having an operation. If it is your own words, though, you have to stand behind them and pay the fine.”



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