South Africa v British & Irish Lions: Tourists remain diplomatic as place in history beckons in Cape Town
The British and Irish Lions are confident that referee Ben O’Keeffe will not be influenced by Rassie Erasmus’s extraordinary attack on the officials from the first Test as they aim to seal a series victory over South Africa.
Warren Gatland’s tourists have reacted to Erasmus’s unprecedented 62-minute critique of the performance of Nic Berry at Cape Town Stadium last Saturday by launching a charm offensive.
Erasmus, the Springboks’ director of rugby, posted a video online in which he accused Berry of showing Siya Kolisi less respect than his opposite number, Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones
The mastermind of South Africa’s 2019 World Cup triumph used 26 clips to highlight perceived mistakes and inconsistencies from Berry, who is an assistant for the potentially decisive second Test at Cape Town Stadium (5pm).
The Lions, however, have adopted a more diplomatic approach ahead of a match that could elevate them alongside the triumphant tours of 1974 and 1997.
“We had a good meeting with the referees yesterday (Thursday). As Ben O’Keeffe said himself, we’re aware there’s a lot of stuff out there on social media etc but that’s not going to affect anything,” said forwards coach Robin McBryde.
“That’s just a sideshow. We had a positive discussion with the referee. Everyone realises they’re in a tough place. They’ve got a tough job to do.
“But we were really happy with Nic Berry last Saturday and I don’t think it will be any different this weekend either. On Ben we have no issues. He is a top man and we are looking forward to working with him on Saturday.”
World Rugby is concerned at the assault on an important principle of the game – respect for the referee – and has demanded an explanation from SA Rugby, potentially leading to an investigation.
McBryde wants the ill-feeling generated by Erasmus’s onslaught against Berry to fade in time for the second Test.
“Traditionally, rugby has prided itself on showing respect to the officials. No back chat etcetera,” said McBryde when explaining his objection to the trial of a new law that allows decisions to be challenged.
“Right from a very young age players are taught that you can’t speak back to the referee. Hopefully, that will continue.
“We had a very positive meeting with the three officials yesterday and we’re looking forward to the game on Saturday.
“Hopefully, it will be a great game and contest and we can forget about what has gone on this week and it does not detract from the actual spectacle.
“I know from talking to a number of players and coaches here who have got family back home about the amount of people who are loving it. I know there are no supporters here, but back home everybody is making the most of it and really enjoying the contest and the challenge.”
McBryde confirmed that Dan Biggar is poised to continue at fly-half, with the contact session the final stage to prove he has recovered from the concussion sustained in the first Test.
Progressive Rugby, a lobby group working to raise awareness of head injuries, has been vocal on social media over Biggar’s concussion, as well as Jones stating he was unaware his Wales team-mate “was carrying anything”.
“Dan has been symptom-free since his post-match head injury assessment and has remained symptom-free throughout the process,” said McBryde.
McBryde was critical of the surface, which cut up badly last Saturday, but insists it is still possible to scrummage despite its softness in certain areas.