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Erasmus judgment wants match officials 'removed from firing line'

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

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Independent judicial panel chairman Christopher Quinlan has concluded in an extensive 80-page written judgment that the legacy of the Springboks director Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby misconduct hearing is a likely change to the way coaches are allowed to interact with match officials.  

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The written judgment detailed the findings of the committee chaired by the Quinlan, together with Nigel Hampton and Judge Mike Mika (both New Zealand), and it made for compelling reading as it gave a gripping insight into the dramatic fallout ignited by Erasmus in the week following the Lions’ 22-17 win over the Springboks on July 24.

It resulted in the publication of a 62-minute video by Erasmus containing criticism of 38 different refereeing decisions from the match that referee Nic Berry had taken charge of.

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This video eventually led to Wednesday’s misconduct hearing verdict banning Springboks director Erasmus from all rugby for two months and banning him from any involvement on a matchday until September 30 next year. SA Rugby must also pay a fine of £20,000, while Erasmus and SA Rugby must also apologise for their actions.

Both those parties are exercising their right to appeal. In the meantime, however, the judicial committee has recommended that changes are needed in how communications are carried out between coaches and match officials.   

In a postscript that begins on page 55 of the written judgment, the committee said: “We understand that communications between match officials and head coaches are commonplace at all levels of the professional game. It routinely includes the provision of (often many) video clips from coaches for what we shall call ‘discussion’. Those are often (if not invariably) clips of decisions the coaches believe or assert the referee has got ‘wrong’. No doubt in this context ‘wrong’ means adverse to their team. 

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“We were told such meetings have benefits for both ‘sides’. We readily understand why head coaches would wish to have access to match officials. We can see that match officials may wish to maintain respectful communications with coaches. 

“However, it is right to observe that referees receive objective analysis from trained and experienced reviewers. At the professional level they, like Nic Berry, are likely to have their own coaches or others from whom they can seek advice. 

“It seems sensible to us that if this practice continues it should always be regulated by a written protocol. Whether it is possible for that to be standardised across all competitions we rather doubt. However, a protocol or competition bespoke protocols would provide transparency as well as clarity as to when and in what circumstances such meetings occur; who should be present; the matters to be discussed; and the manner thereof. 

“To remove the match official/s from the firing line, we think it sensible for such meetings to be arranged through and to be chaired by a person such as Joel Jutge or those in a comparable position. 

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“Such meetings might also be recorded so there can be no doubt as to what was discussed. No doubt hard thought will now be given as to whether it is appropriate for match officials to be having such meetings with coaches once a series has begun. 

“Another virtue of such procedure is that it would prevent match officials being ambushed and subjected to unfair and unwarranted pressure as happened to Nic Berry in this instance. It is to be hoped those with responsibility for such matters attend to this area of the game forthwith.”

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