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'Lord help us': Past history of Lions series' referees against the Springboks has been dug up

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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Much has been made over the announcement of the Springboks and Lions squads for the upcoming tour of South Africa, but little emphasis has been made over the appointment of the referees for the series.


New Zealander Ben O’Keefe, Australian Nic Berry and Frenchman Mathieu Raynal were named as part of the officiating team for the test series.

South African fans have been involved in controversies with other referees in the past when things haven’t gone the Springboks’ way.

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Bryce Lawerence was vilified by the South African rugby public after the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, while Jerome Garces was a target following the loss to the All Blacks in the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup.

The officials for the Lions series will be under just as much scrutiny, but one vocal South African fan has already claimed that the Springboks should be worried over the appointments, with all three referees having made big calls against the Springboks in the past.

The fan took exception to the appointments by stating ‘Lord help us’.


Ben O’Keefe was the referee in 2017 when Wallabies fullback Israel Folau dragged Dillon Lleyds over the sideline by his hair, however no yellow card infringement was issued much to the surprise of the Springboks.

O’Keefe issued just a penalty despite protests from Lleyds who claimed that Folau ‘100 per cent’ pulled his hair twice.

“He actually pulled me by the hair twice. He had one go at it and then he got his left hand on and pulled me down again,” Lleyds said after the match.

“I don’t know what their version of the story is, but 100 per cent he got me by the hair.”


Wallaby coach Michael Chieka got into a heated argument with a journalist in the after-match press conference, backing up Folau saying he was pulled by the collar of the shirt and not the hair.

However, video and still images of the incident show a different story in favour of Lleyd’s claims.

Mathieu Raynal, meanwhile, was officiating a European game earlier this year between Sale and Scarlets when Welsh lock Jake Ball put a dangerous crusher tackle onto defenceless Springbok halfback Faf de Klerk at the base of the ruck.

De Klerk was hit high around the chops by a swinging arm by Ball and luckily escaped a serious leg injury as his body folded under the weight of the Welsh big man.

It was questionable whether the ball was out at the time, but the height of the tackle was not reviewed despite the protests of de Klerk and other Sale players.

The Twitter user admitted he had seen less of Australian Nic Berry and did not have any suggestions that his involvement was a bad thing for the Springboks.

When asked who else would be suited, he could only point to English referees as being up to standard but suggested that is the problem.

South Africans Jaco Peyper, AJ Jacobs and Marius van der Westhuizen were also named as part of the officiating teams for the warm-up games involving the South African club sides.

Despite concerns from the fans, the Springboks could use the tactics they used in Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks came out after their World Cup victory and offered detail of their strategy for managing the referees, which involved detailed psychological profiling of each ref to help understand how they could be manipulated.

It was used on Jerome Garces in the final to try to help win crucial calls the Frenchman would make during the game, by praising him on his fitness and conditioning to make the referee feel good about himself.


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