"We don't want people not to like us" he told former referee Nigel Owens in a phone call

In the build-up to the Springboks’ crunching Rugby World Cup quarter-final date with France, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was asked about his side’s discipline, having earnt no cards so far this tournament. And after pointing out that his side have conceded the fourth-fewest penalties too, he addressed som past indiscretions.

In his own words, South Africa “got it wrong” with how they dealt with match officials in the past and they “had to earn the respect back”. In particular he highlighted the 2021 Lions tour, after which the director of rugby copped a two-month ban for his conduct, following the public release of an extraordinary, hour-plus video which heavily criticised match official Nic Berry.

Erasmus also highlighted the lack of communication possible with World Rugby’s officials whilst in a bubble in Australia, ahead of the 100th Test against the All Blacks.

In his own words, the team also adapted their game in order to – as some would say in modern rugby parlance – give the referees a clearer picture. And so he turned to former referee Nigel Owens for some advice.

Erasmus on match officials

Erasmus said on match officials and the evolving relationship there: “For us the first word is respect. I think definitely we got it wrong in stages especially when we had the year off with Covid and we went into the Lions series.

“The levels of communication was really tough, even when we played our 100th game against New Zealand we were in a bubble in Australia. World Rugby couldn’t be there and the Lions series they couldn’t be there because of Covid. So it was tough to get better and better communication and I guess on both sides it led to frustration.

“Last year I had a phone call with (former referee) Nigel Owens and I said ‘We really want to get this right, we don’t want people not to like us. That is not the reason for us, maybe sometimes having differences and doing things in a way, just to get a response.’ We wanted to know how things worked and I must say what we learned from that conversations is that no matter if we are right, the respect you show to the referee, you will get back from that referee, even if he makes mistakes or you make mistakes.

“We also had to adapt our game a little bit. If you only rely on maul, it is difficult to referee a maul. If you only rely on a scrum, it’s difficult to referee a scrum. I’ll be honest with you, there was one tweet I tweeted especially after the France game [in 2022], I was quite honest and serious about it. We had to change our game to make it easier for referees. So it’s not always this (crunch) thing to work out who is or isn’t dominate. That there is also free flowing passes and open tries which was a really honest. Guys also worked hard on level change (on tackles).

“So yes no cards, I think we are fourth-lowest for penalty count. We had to earn it back, we had to earn the respect back and I think it is showing at this stage that it works both ways.”

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