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Erasmus hearing reveals why Nic Berry apologised to Siya Kolisi

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

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Referee Nic Berry sought out Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi at the second Lions Test last July to apologise over the player’s reported feelings of unfair treatment stemming from the previous week’s first Test. The infamous 62-minute Rassie Erasmus video critiquing the Australian’s refereeing performance in the opening game of the series twice alleged disrespect had been shown by Berry to the South African captain.

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“When Siya spoke to the referee and when Alun (Wyn Jones) spoke to the referee I just felt the reactions on how they treated both those players was totally, there was a vast difference between who he was taking serious and who he wasn’t taking serious. I might just play this for you and talk you through it,” claimed Erasmus in the video that pored over a multitude of clips from the match.  

The Springboks director added with regard to another contentious clip: “…It is almost like he is having a laugh at Siya and saying to him: Yeah, it was a knock-on, it is only a knock-on. He is actually laughing at Siya now.”

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This alleged lack of respect became a hot topic at the eve-of-second-game media briefing attended by Kolisi where he was asked about his interactions with Berry during a match lost by the Springboks. “I didn’t feel respected at all, I didn’t feel a fair, I was given a fair opportunity. That’s the answer to the first question. And the second one is, yeah, I’m looking forward. It’s a new game, it’s a new referee, which I’m looking forward to. I think Ben will give a fair, a fair opportunity for both captains and that’s all I’ve always asked for.

“I just say I just didn’t feel as, I didn’t get given the same access to the referee and there is proof. If you watch the game again you will definitely be able to see yourself. Yeah, I don’t want to speak too much about that because it has already happened, there is nothing I can do about it, it’s not going to change anything.”

In the charge sheet contained in the 80-page written judgment following the hearing, it was noted that “Siya Kolisi is a deeply impressive individual who leads the Springboks team with distinction. We have no reason to doubt the genuineness of his feelings. However, that is not the same as asserting as a fact that he had been disrespected nor that those feelings are correct.”

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The judgment then added how Berry has reacted that second Test weekend following the allegation of disrespect towards Kolisi. “During his evidence, Nic Berry told us that he had ‘massive respect’ for Siya Kolisi as a person and as a player. 

“So concerned was he by the reported feelings of unfair treatment that at the second Test he sought him out and apologised if he had done anything which created the contrary impression. We accept without reservation Nic Berry’s evidence that he, and his officiating team, did not intentionally disrespect Siya Kolisi.”

The judicial committee ultimately decided that the alleged treatment of the Springbok captain by the match officials was not central to this case, but they had a final word on the matter in section 152 of the judgment.

“If there be doubt, we remove it: we recognise the exceptional sensitivity of race in South Africa. We are sure that none of the match officials deliberately or consciously treated Siya Kolisi differently from any other player. Nothing they did was motivated by race. 

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“That Rassie Erasmus believed his captain was treated differently does not get close to justifying the content of his video. We also note that only two of the clips concerned that topic and there were a further four or so references to the Springbok players being disrespected.”

Springboks director Erasmus was suspended from all rugby with immediate effect on Wednesday for a period of two months following his misconduct hearing regarding charges arising out of the Test series versus the British and Irish Lions earlier this year. 

Erasmus was also banned from any involvement on a matchday until September 30 next year, while SA Rugby must pay a fine of £20,000. Both Erasmus and SA Rugby must also apologise for their actions, but both those parties have since stated they will be exercising their right to appeal.  

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