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'Vilified': Compelling Berry testimony on damaging Erasmus attack

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Steve Haag/PA Images via Getty Images)

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The 80-page full written judgment in the Rassie Erasmus misconduct hearing has laid bare the emotional turmoil which the criticisms by the Springboks director of rugby caused to Test referee Nic Berry. It was last July when the Australian official found himself in the crosshairs following his refereeing of the first match in the three-game series between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions.

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Defeat for the Springboks in the series opener in Cape Town ultimately resulted in the publication of a 62-minute video by Erasmus containing criticism of 38 different refereeing decisions from the match that Berry had taken charge of.

This video eventually resulted in Wednesday’s misconduct hearing verdict banning 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. 

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Less than an hour after the verdict was circulated via World Rugby, a statement was issued by SA Rugby and Erasmus stating “they will exercise their rights to appeal the verdicts“.

In the meantime, the written judgment accompanying the findings of the committee chaired by the independent Christopher Quinlan, together with Nigel Hampton and Judge Mike Mika (both New Zealand), have made for compelling reading as it gives a gripping insight into the dramatic fallout in the week following the Lions’ 22-17 win. 

It included the answers from Berry to Erasmus in response to all the clips that were included in the controversial video as well as reams of email and WhatsApp correspondence between a whole host of people following on from the July 24 match in Cape Town which resulted in misconduct charges being filed by World Rugby against Erasmus and SA Rugby on August 2.

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Especially compelling in the written verdict was the section dedicated to the impact the case took on referee Berry, who was last Sunday in charge of the Wales versus Fiji Autumn Nations Series match in Cardiff. 

Starting on page 43 of the judgment, the judicial committee wrote: “There is a human element to this case which we have been concerned not to lose sight of. While Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby concentrated their attention on the treatment of Siya Kolisi, it is Nic Berry who was vilified in the Erasmus video. 

“We had over an hour to observe and to listen to Nic Berry, as his account was tested and challenged before us. We had no hesitation in accepting his evidence. It was measured and he made concessions where appropriate. He had no motive to lie, exaggerate or mislead. We were impressed by the quiet dignity, humility, and restraint he showed during his evidence. 

“We also accept without reservation that what he endured because of the publication of the Erasmus video has had a profound effect upon him.”

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The judgment then went on to relay Berry’s own description of the impact the whole ordeal had on him. “Needless to say, the whole situation has been an extremely difficult time for my family and me,” the Australian told the hearing.

“As a match official, I understand that our performances will be heavily scrutinised, especially in such a prestigious tournament. However, the public attack on my integrity and character is not something that should be tolerated in any workplace. 

“…I considered officiating in a Lions tour comparable with that in a World Cup. The appointment is an honour which few achieve. However, due to the actions of Mr Erasmus, my family and I have endured a significant amount of distress and we will only have negative memories of the whole experience. 

“I feel that Mr Erasmus engaged in a character assassination of me on social media. I have spent many years trying to build my reputation as an international referee and in the course of his video which was posted online, Mr Erasmus has caused it immeasurable damage. 

“Though a small proportion of the rugby community will follow the outcome of this matter, and in the process obtain an accurate account of what really occurred, the wider rugby community will only be aware of me in the context of this incident. I feel that regardless of the outcome and any sanctions imposed, my reputation as a referee and person will forever be tarnished. 

“Throughout Mr Erasmus’ video, he makes unsubstantiated claims about the incidents that occurred in the 72 hours after the first Test match which I refereed. Throughout this whole ordeal, I have maintained my professionalism despite being the target of an unprecedented personal attack played out in the media. The evidence attached is an accurate and detailed account of what really happened and should assist World Rugby in their judicial hearing into the matter. 

“I felt that Mr Erasmus’ video brought into question my professionalism and my integrity as a match official and that there was an inference to be drawn that I was in some way cheating as an official, which is obviously completely untrue.

“My reputation throughout the rugby community has suffered immeasurably from his actions and I acknowledge that the impending investigation will likely lead to more public scrutiny and unwanted media attention. 

“However, his actions are against everything our game stands for and I feel it is important to take a stand against such behaviour. I sincerely hope that the outcome of the independent judicial hearing will set a precedent to discourage similar behaviour in the future so that no person has to experience what I have these past few weeks.” 

Reacting to that testimony, the judicial committee said: “No further words from us are necessary. That is the human cost of Rassie Erasmus’ conduct. It is that cost which he and SA Rugby have yet to acknowledge.”

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