Part of the beauty of rugby – besides the extreme physical demands of players, the extraordinary range of skills required, the strategic and tactical variety, and the thrill of controlled violence – is how the game prepares to take on the real world.

Trevor Norwitz

Trevor Norwitz practices law in New York. He grew up in Cape Town, attended SACS and UCT and was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford.

The rugby lover, whether player or spectator, is trained – no, forced – to accept gray areas and to have a very high tolerance for injustice, two traits common to real life. Unlike the simpler games (football or tennis, for example), the rules of rugby are not all clear and clear. Being a multidimensional full contact sport, where injury or worse is a constant possibility, its rules are complex, subject to interpretation and constantly changing. Even more than other sports, it’s not just about winning – it’s about doing your best and having fun.

It’s a rugby truism that if you want to be assured of winning, you have to totally dominate your opponent. As between two tied teams, victory and defeat will be almost arbitrary, sometimes boiling down to an individual error or flash of brilliance, frequently to “bouncing the ball” or “rubbing the green” or, even more often. , the whistle.

Which brings us to Rassie Erasmus and his unprecedented 62-minute video dissection of officials after the first test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions.

This week, World Rugby announced that the South African rugby director will face a disciplinary hearing for his comments and criticism from officials.

The problem isn’t the gist of his hour-long video rant. It could be argued that some of the examples Erasmus gives are marginal or offset by others it omits, but overall it makes a compelling case that Lions have benefited from at least half a dozen decisions. horrible refereeing, one of which could have changed the outcome of the match. In essence, he was clearly right.

The question is whether he should have done so. And a follow-up question is: what should World Rugby do about it now?

When I first heard that Rassie made this video, my initial instinct was to wince in regret. I knew he would be basically right. Many of the most egregious examples he cited were points that I and others had noticed and decried in real time and after analysis.

But it felt like one of those times when you aspire and commit to doing better next time. It was not a game where South Africa had the right to feel that the Boks had been stolen, that the better team had lost.

The Boks failed to transform their dominance on the pitch in the first half into dominance on the scoreboard (although a few howlers – like Itoje’s “steal” – cost them some of their best opportunities) . And then they let the visitors come back in the second half, even winning some crucial stages, which left the result hanging in the air. Certainly, any of a handful of bad calls going in the right direction could have changed the outcome. But it wasn’t Bryce Lawrence in the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

Differential treatment

After reviewing the tape, I no longer believe Rassie was wrong to make it. I had not fully appreciated the aspects of equal respect and dignity that were brought out in several of the clips, and which had apparently been specifically discussed before the game. It might have been more “sporty” for Rassie to “suck himself”, but an important learning moment would have been lost.

The difference in treatment accorded to captains in the field – and by extension to teams – was palpable. Alun Wyn Jones, the tall white man, senior statesman of four major rugby nations, stuck to the referee like glue and was always given maximum respect. On several occasions when Siya Kolisi tried to (correctly) point out errors that should at least be checked, he was treated with contempt, at least once even with derision. And he felt it.

I’m not saying referee Nic Berry is racist. I very much doubt it is. But he is human and no less sensitive to unconscious prejudices than any other person.

I also don’t blame Jones for using his privilege to bolster his team’s advantage. That’s exactly what the privileged do and he was doing his best for his team. But I say rugby has to do better. Referees must be trained to do better. And if Rassie hadn’t taken this golden opportunity to point out this gap, this kind of behavior would just continue.

What should World Rugby do about this? Learn it and use it to improve rugby. And while they’re at it, they can herald an ongoing effort to improve the rules of the game to make it more pleasing to the eye and reduce doubts. Rugby fans don’t expect or want the precision of American football (or the commercials while the referees are deliberating), but just want the game to play out, to allow the players to show their magic. And they want – or should want – all players and teams to be treated with the same dignity.

What are they going to do though? Seems like they can choose to discipline the bearer of an important message and not learn from it. It is likely that the “independent” disciplinary panel will be dominated by representatives of the former colonial powers and members of their “Commonwealth”.

How they act will be illustrative. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t take any action, as they clearly want to discourage this kind of behavior in the future, but they have to be careful not to overdo it.

They have already acknowledged that it was Lions coach Warren Gatland who started the whistle war. His clever but cynical mind games in the run-up to the first test paid huge dividends for the Lions, while South Africa’s restraint only worked to their detriment.

Rassie will always be a hero to South Africans. World Rugby could also make him a martyr. DM

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This notice was published: 2021-08-04 21:34:19


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