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Springboks to keep using intriguing good cop, bad cop referee tactic versus the Lions

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

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New South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber has explained the logic behind his team’s use of a good cop, bad cop routine when it comes to dealing with referees after Nic Berry (Australia), Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) and Mathieu Raynal (France) were appointed to officiate the upcoming Test matches between the Springboks and the Lions.


At the 2019 World Cup in Japan, where South Africa triumphed with Rassie Erasmus doubling up as the head coach and director of rugby, the Springboks adopted a strategy of using Duane Vermeulen as bad cop and skipper Siya Kolisi as a good cop when it came to the team’s dealings with referees.

New head coach Nienaber, who has stepped up from his Springboks defence coach role ahead of the Lions, insisted there was nothing manipulative about the tactic, claiming it wasn’t restricted for use in relationships with referees but to also wield influence on teammates. 

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RugbyPass is sharing unique stories from iconic British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa in proud partnership with The Famous Grouse, the Spirit of Rugby

Explaining the introduction of the bad cop role that the Springboks will keep using against the Lions, Nienaber said: “In South African culture, I’m an Afrikaans guy coming from Bloemfontein and it isn’t natural for me to question authority. That was the common thing on a Sunday that your dad would tell you, ‘Listen, you need to be seen, not heard. You don’t open your mouth. There is a hierarchy’. 

“So, for us Afrikaans guys to talk to a referee is weird, he is in a position of authority. So what we did with good cop, bad cop, we said, ‘Let’s put a guy in a role. If I am the bad cop I am the guy who is going to question’ and that was what we did’. 

“So you almost put on a suit, I’m going to be the bad cop or the encourager for today. Guys almost put on a suit, you’re an actor, you play a role. If your role is to be a bad cop, if things at the breakdown are not going well, you ask, you must find a solution. That is what a bad cop does. A good cop, it’s not only to a referee, it’s to the player. A good cop is when someone does a great thing, a good tackle and you’re the guy that encourages him, says well done, so it’s not just the referee. 


“I hope it makes sense… it’s not our style to ask a question or to tell your buddy, listen I am a bad cop of the breakdown, I must make sure the breakdown gets run today in the manner that we want to run it. It’s almost a good cop, bad cop and your question in terms of the referees (and using this tactic), no it won’t change. 

“We know that the referees are there to make sure the game is safe, we must work with them in creating a safe spectacle. Rugby is a game of contests, that is why we love rugby. There are probably 600 contests in a game and that is the beauty of it and that guy has to officiate on every single contest. 

“We know we have to be accurate there from a safety point of view and from delivering a product. You want to go for a poach and you want to be legal because if you get the turnover that is the golden seconds where there is unstructured defence and you can actually find some space. 

“We will always operate like that… every single coach will look at trends on the referees. Certain referees have certain trends and to be honest, we haven’t even started with that, we haven’t even looked at their trends but we will like Warren (Gatland) and the Lions will do as well.”



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