Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks captain John Smit has weighed into the Rassie Erasmus saga, saying the director of rugby’s ongoing social media commentary had made the South Africa team “so easy to dislike.”
Erasmus was last week handed a two-game matchday ban after he published multiple posts on Twitter, highlighting alleged refereeing inconsistencies in the Springboks’ 30-26 loss to France in Marseille.
A week earlier, Erasmus had posted clips of South Africa’s 19-16 loss to Ireland, which compared similar incidents from the Test that had allegedly been refereed differently, despite Erasmus not making such claims directly.
With Erasmus showing few signs that he would halt his social media refereeing breakdowns, World Rugby was left with little choice but to act, and Erasmus was subsequently banned from the Springboks’ Tests against Italy and England.
While Erasmus has received widespread support from Springboks fans back home, Smit, who led South Africa to their 2007 World Cup victory, said the 2019 World Cup-winning coach had taken things too far.
“It’s hard to defend him… the way he has approached this is not right,” Smit told the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast.
“Are you telling me Rassie is the only coach frustrated by a call that has gone the wrong way?
“Something has to be done. There has to be a line that has to be drawn, and he is making it difficult for his team. It’s made us, as a rugby team, so easy to dislike.”
Erasmus’ recent posts come after he was last year banned from attending Test matches in an official role for 10 months, following an hour-long YouTube video that took aim at Australian referee Nic Berry after the Springboks had lost the opening Test against the British & Irish Lions.
That ban only finished at the end of September, meaning Erasmus’ first Test in an official Springboks capacity was the narrow loss to Ireland in Dublin.
While Smit was clearly disappointed with Erasmus’ conduct, he said there was a wider problem in rugby that was putting unwanted pressure on referees.
Both the 🇫🇷 and 🇿🇦 9’s under immense pressure !! We just have to get that on side right!!Sorry 🇿🇦💔 pic.twitter.com/srzoaBjm89
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) November 13, 2022
The former Springboks skipper’s comments coming on the back of whistleblower Ben O’Keeffe’s revelations about some of the online abuse he had suffered after he refereed Ireland’s 13-10 win over the Wallabies.
“I honestly believe there should be a penalty for any player who thinks they can help the referee referee the game,” he said.
“The referees have to get control back. Everyone seems to think they have an influence over what the referee should be doing. When I was captain, when anyone else spoke they were disrespecting me, and the referee.
“Refereeing rugby is incredibly difficult. What we want is consistency and respect, and I think when we start giving that back to the referee the pressure will be off them [and they will] have more consistent performances.
“I would like referees to get back in charge and not have to defend themselves the whole time.”
World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin has meanwhile explained why the governing body felt it needed to suspend Erasmus, despite the former Springboks flanker disagreeing with how his posts were to be perceived.
“We have to make sure we protect them [referees] in that sense,” Gilpin told the Rugby Union Daily.
“South Africa are a brilliant and really important part of the game across men’s and women’s, 7s and XVs. They are world champions and Rassie has done amazing things with that team and is clearly an amazing coach.
“But our view – and he may not agree – is that he has crossed the line. For us, it is really important we reinforce where those lines are, for everybody to see.
“Being a rugby referee is the toughest job in sport. Let’s give these guys, and the brilliant women who are doing that job, the best support and chance we can, and work with them for them to improve. And that is a responsibility the top coaches have got to take as well.”
The Springboks’ season comes to a close this weekend at Twickenham, where they will seek to improve their tour record to 2-2 after they broke their November duck with a comprehensive win over Italy.