South African official steps in to replace New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill

Marius Jonker stepping in as TMO for Lions Tests draws ire

It wasn’t meant to be like this. New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill was due to be the Television Match Official (TMO) for the Springboks-British & Irish Lions 2021 series; a neutral official keeping an eye on things.

But as he withdrew due to pandemic-related travel disruption an alternative had to be found. In stepped South Africa‘s Marius Jonker.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland is said to be furious with the appointment.

Jonker has already been caught in Gatland’s crosshairs on this tour. While the Lions were losing to South Africa A, Jonker was the TMO. In that contest, Boks nine Faf de Klerk was highlighted for what some believed was contact to the head, on Lions back-rower Josh Navidi. He was sin-binned but some suggested he should have received a red card.

Gatland said after the match: “Someone was watching a different picture to me. I thought it looked reckless to me. No arms and he’s hit the arm first and then the shoulder, but there’s definitely head-on-head contact.”

According to World Rugby, the contingency plan was always for a local official to be step in if needed – local TMOs were also used during last season’s Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations).

However, several observers have pointed to the fact that Jonker’s son, Rynhardt, is a team-mate of several Springboks, as he plays for the Sharks franchise, asking how he can be truly impartial.

As it stands, Jonker is also due to be TMO for the second and third Tests, on July 31 and August 7, although the Lions are reportedly asking World Rugby for a neutral official.

Jonker has now been put in an awkward position. But this is not the first time the TMO has made headlines.

Marius Jonker in the news

Who can forget when Sam Underhill’s lung-busting try against the All Blacks in 2018 was chalked off at the death? The man who made that call was TMO Jonker.

Related: Controversy as late England try against All Blacks ruled out by TMO

Jonker has also drawn the ire of Crusaders fans in the past and it came as part of a partnership with referee Nic Berry (who is the match official in the opening Test of this Lions series).

In a 2019 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and Stormers, it looked like Sevu Reece had scored a winner, only for play to be called back for a forward pass.

At the time Jonker said to Berry, on watching replays: “So, we have a forward pass, it’s clear and obvious evidence of a forward pass.” But according to Crusaders boss Scott Robertson and reports in New Zealand, in the aftermath SANZAAR confirmed Jonker was wrong.


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