Warren Gatland believes South Africa have dragged the Lions into the mud during this series with their disrespect of referees, who he called upon to speed the game up in the deciding Test.
The British & Irish tourists and Springboks have been part of a series full of back-biting and bad blood, culminating in Rassie Erasmus’ extraordinary hour-long savaging of the officials after the first Test.
World Rugby, the governing body, stepped in belatedly this week to say they would investigate the South African union and their director of rugby – but warned the Lions too of their conduct.
Warren Gatland believes South Africa have dragged the Lions into the mud during this series
The British & Irish tourists and Springboks have been part of a series full of bad blood
That referred to the Lions questioning their contingency planning around the television match official, which was meant to be New Zealander Brendon Pickerill but as he could not fly due to Covid restrictions the job was given to South African Marius Jonker.
And Gatland was annoyed World Rugby has treated those concerns similarly to Erasmus’ unprecedented public rant.
‘The only thing I’m disappointed about in World Rugby’s statement is that they’ve kind of inadvertently dragged us into it,’ said Gatland ahead of the third Test in Cape Town this Saturday.
‘We’ve tried to, we think, maintain as much integrity as we can, in terms of we haven’t been commenting on refereeing. We never questioned the TMO. The only question we asked is why hadn’t World Rugby put a contingency plan in place if people couldn’t travel or got sick.
Rassie Erasmus’ hour-long savaging of the officials after the first Test has seen World Rugby step in
‘That’s the only question that we had asked. So I’m really, really disappointed with a part of the statement where they’ve sort of said both sides have been making comments and being critical of the officials.
‘I’d like someone to show me where we have done that. We’ve looked through everything and we can’t see any instances where we’ve been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we’ve praised the officials.’
Gatland also revealed he spoke to former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, now at World Rugby, to ask them if they could appoint a neutral TMO for the final two Tests – but did not succeed.
‘It’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn’t make it out here?’ he asked.
‘We’ve had contingency plans for a couple of things in case things happened with Covid so that we’d be covered.
But the Lions have also been warned after questioning the decision to replace Brendon Pickerill (L) with Marius Jonker (R)
‘So, there was no question about people being involved. What we questioned was the process.’
Gatland added that the Boks should ‘suck it up and get on with’ decisions that go against them – and called on them to show more respect to officials.
‘Every four years there’s a World Cup and I think the next biggest thing on the world rugby calendar is the Lions,’ he said.
‘You don’t want to be in a position where any of the match officials can be potentially criticised or questioned. We’ve already had that, where these official have been accused of being disrespected and haven’t made the right calls and have potentially been influenced.
‘That’s been disappointing, I think for everyone we have to make sure we respect the officials as best we can.
‘They have a difficult job, there was a lot spoken about certain decisions and calls and sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and get on with it.’
Gatland spoke to former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt (centre) to ask for a neutral TMO
Making six changes to his starting XV – Liam Williams in for Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams for Anthony Watson, Bundee Aki for Chris Harris, Ali Price for Conor Murray, Wyn Jones for Mako Vunipola and Ken Owens for Luke Cowan-Dickie – and adding Finn Russell and Sam Simmonds to the bench, Gatland wants the Lions to attack.
But he asked the referee Mathieu Raynal not to buy the time-wasting tricks of the South Africans, who slowed the game down so much in the second Test the first half lasted 64 minutes – clearly benefitting their physical, combative style.
‘We’re talking to officials about making sure that we keep the game flowing,’ he added.
‘We felt like that at every scrum there was an injury, slowing the game down. I think there was something like 14 minutes of TMO time in the game and we’ve worked pretty hard from a conditioning point of view but it was really, really stop-start and that made it frustrating for us.
‘You want that flow in the game and we’ve seen from other games that when we’ve had that tempo we’ve played some really good rugby.
‘We want to keep the tempo of the game up to get the ball in at our scrums and get the ball in quickly at line-outs, to play and to get a flow. And South Africa at the moment don’t want to do that.
Gatland asked referee Mathieu Raynal not to buy the time-wasting tricks of the South Africans
‘Everything is so stop-start that it does make it frustrating. It’s definitely not something to our advantage and we need to work on that and make sure that we keep up that tempo this weekend.
‘I know Alun Wyn Jones was talking to the referee on a number of occasions about keeping it going. We had stud changes, we had TMO decisions, we had the referee stopping the game for cramp.
‘So that will be one of the things I talk to the referees this week.
‘We need to make sure we can’t have 60-odd minute halves. I think it’s important that we keep the game flow of the game, and as much from a spectator point of view. We want to see some great rugby played at the weekend.’