Gregor Townsend criticises Rassie Erasmus’ conduct during Murrayfield Test

Scotland head coach says that South Africa's Director of Rugby attempted a "character assassination" on one of the home team's players

Rassie Erasmus on 'water boy' duties for South Africa against Scotland on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Rassie Erasmus on 'water boy' duties for South Africa against Scotland on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend says that the only concern he has about the sanctions imposed on Rassie Erasmus by World Rugby on Wednesday night is that it took the global  governing body so long to punish the South African Director of Rugby for his antics during last summer’s Lions tour.

He has also accused Erasmus of attempting a “character assassination” on an unnamed Scotland player during last Saturday’s Autumn Test Series clash at Murrayfield, and believes that attempting to intimidate players and match officials has become a worryingly common strategy in the modern game.

“I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but someone showed me a video of him making comments about one of our players, a character assassination or sledging or whatever,” revealed Townsend. “That’s not the role of coaches; it’s not the role of anybody on the sidelines to be doing that.


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“If we want our sport to go down a different route then we allow these things to happen. That was really disappointing to see, and I know it wasn’t the only incident over the weekend, over that game.”

Erasmus has been banned from all rugby activities for two months and suspended from all match-day activities until September, having been found guilty of six charges, including threatening referee Nic Berry during last summer’s Lions tour.

The punishment was announced on Wednesday meaning that Erasmus was allowed to be pitch-side in his now customary role as the Springbok team’s ‘water boy’ at Murrayfield last weekend. It is a tactic he first adopted during the Lions tour. While head coaches are banned from performing the role and entering the field of play to impart messages directly to players, there is nothing in the rules to stop a Director of Rugby doing it.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland pointed out at the time that there had been times when Erasmus was on the pitch speaking to players without carrying any water after the Lions match against a Springbok ‘A’ side in the lead-up to the first Test.

Then, after South Africa had lost the first Test of the series, Erasmus took his campaign to influence the way the games were being officiated a step further when he produced 62-minute long video monologue in which he dissected the performance of Berry, focussing on decisions which had gone against his team, and argued that Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, was not shown the same respect by the match officials as opposite number Alun Wyn Jones. Erasmus claimed that the video had not been made for public distribution but this was rejected by World Rugby’s disciplinary panel.

As well as the suspensions, Erasmus has also been ordered by World Rugby to apologise to the match officials involved, and has been warned over his future conduct. South Africa Rugby has been fined £20,000 for failing to ensure that their employee complied with World Rugby’s code of conduct. Both parties have stated that they will appeal the verdicts.

“I think that was a real bad episode for our game,” said Townsend, who was an assistant coach during the Lions tour. “I was there at the time, so I experienced what was going on, and I later spoke to Nic Berry about it and he went through a real tough time, and so did his family.

“That was a real shame and a pity that these things can happen in our sport. I don’t think it could have been allowed to continue.

“Those antics … we can’t fall into that trap of winning at all costs and putting pressure on individuals.

“It has been a while for that decision to come,” he added. “That would be my only frustration, that it has taken so long to come to this decision.”

Townsend added that he hopes the strong – if overdue – stance taken by World Rugby on Wednesday will be the catalyst for a tougher line generally against backroom staff who overstep the mark.

“[It was] four months too late,” said Townsend, when asked if it was frustrating that Erasmus was not suspended before the Scotland versus South Africa game. “I remember having to go to two hearings for Zander [Fagerson] when he got banned in the Six Nations. I feel that whatever happens around a game, whether it’s a player or coach or someone related to the game like a physio, decisions have to be made more quickly.

“We got to the decision that was announced yesterday, but for me this is the tip of the iceberg,” he added. “We’ve seen a lot of incidents where people on the sidelines are trying to intimidate players and officials. Going onto the field of play as well to either coach their team or intimidate officials on the field. It’s got to stop.

“I would urge World Rugby to make further changes. Why do we need coaches on the sidelines? If they are on the sidelines they have to live up to certain behaviours and values that we pride in our game, which sadly I felt over the summer and since then have been lost.”

It has been alleged that Erasmus has a reputation among referees for the kind of behaviour which got him into his current predicament, and was even reprimanded by World Rugby for emailing Australian referee Angus Gardner and ringing him early in the morning following South Africa’s 32-19 defeat away to Argentina during the 2018 Rugby Championship. 

Gardner refereed South Africa for the first time since that incident in last Saturday’s match at Murrayfield.


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About David Barnes 2679 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

57 Comments

    • Quite an accomplishment – that outstandingly stupid, inappropriate comment fails even the Ed Crick Test, and certainly takes the biscuit at this juncture for the most ignorant of all 50 on here…..

      Hurrah for education, maturity and common sense!

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      • Ha ha ha! Says Ron who runs his own personally curated no one may disagree Facebook page as an act of digital self love

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  1. Reading some of these comments I have to say that the Scots are really sore at loosing to the Springboks, AGAIN. Suck it up guys, you will never be number one or win the World Cup! I was at the game and enjoyed it all thoroughly. Rassie is an awesome person to have on your side and you can only wish he was on yours!

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  2. No hour long video for Garces after RWC 19 final? Thought not. Kind of ruins RE’s forensic approach to coaching and ref decisions if the spoilt brat behaviour only comes out after a loss. Those (SA) defending him, a sport where refs are fair game for intimidation and bullying and players are subjected to sledging from opposition Coaches, in any language, might be the game you want to see, however luckily for rugby, many of the rest of us think the game has more class.

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  3. Lots of comments from South Africans on here defending their team and coach. Nothing wrong in that however,
    Whilst your team is stronger than Scotlands and sits higher in rankings they are not a team to get the pulse racing. For Scots fans it’s not all about the winning. S.A played the most boring rugby during the Lions tour and did nothing to stir the pulse last week against Scotland. Perhaps that is the reason we are getting so many saffer players jumping ship is maybe they want to play some rugby and not some ‘park the bus’ defence game built around dullard body shapes.

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    • I mean let’s be honest. Saffers come here to play rugby because they earn much more money in a currency that has some value.

      Many stay because Scotland isn’t an extremely violent society mired in desperate poverty. At least outside of Glasgow (joke).

      • Thats because the lions went with a coach who tried to match the Boks with a size over skill approach. Tried to contain them and score on the counter attack. it led to the most boring spectacle played out by both teams. I’m just glad I didn’t spend my life savings going to watch the series in person. Winning is very important in all sport but if all rugby was played like those tests there would be no supporters in the stadiums.

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    • agreed just have to hope England play fast and expansive and the ref doesn’t allow endless made up stoppages for the string but slow 50 min men in the SA pack, that the endless SA gamesmanship and ruck is pinged and it becomes a wonderful open game ideally England winning by 40+ pts to less than 20.

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  4. The character assassination that snowflake Townsend refer to is Rassie telling the Springbok fullback to pepper the Scottish wing with box kicks as he is crap under the high ball, a factual observation by the way not a character assassination. Jeez everyone is so easily offfended nowadays. To ride the current media wave post WR ban on Rassie to basically insuniate that he was sledging a Scotland player from the sidelines is in poor taste. Shame on you Gregor.

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      • If you have something more egregious to refer to, then please let us know! If not, then it obviously didn’t happen, since if it did, it would have went viral already.

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      • Why would it have gone viral already?

        It could well have been this incident. But you don’t know that.

        I’m struggling to understand your logic – you don’t know what it is, but you saw something that it might be, so it absolutely has to be that. Is that what you are saying?

        Note: Townsend also indicated that there were multiple incidents.

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      • To: The Offside Line says: Get over yourselves, are you Scots pussy’s or what? I was at the Scotland game and really loved the passion shown by the Scots, one guy next to me was thumping his chest so hard where the Scottish Rugby emblem was, I feared he was doing himself an injury, any more Scottish trys and he would have landed up in hospital! BUT l also noted the betrayal of thousands leaving the stadium long before the game was over.

    • Whether it’s factually accurate or not is irrelevant. Unless he’s shouting something directly relevant to the task of carrying water, he should haud his wheesht

  5. The certainty with which some SA fans and officials continue to claim the ENTIRE GLOBAL RUGBY COMMUNITY are wrong and they are right. Well let’s just say this blinkered insular view has precedence. When you haven’t got a single ally in France, Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, Georgia, Spain, Fiji etc etc etc you think maybe just maybe you ARE the bad guys.

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  6. In cycling tours one of the domestics is sent back to the team car to get water and food, he then returns to distribute it to his team mates. In rugby the water break has become a nonsense, do you really think that professional athletes playing for 40 minutes in generally low temperature environments need water breaks before half time. It’s become an excuse to pass information to the players and it needs to stop, the players do not need water nor should they be allowed coaching information except at half time.

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  7. Anyone with a brain can see that Erasmus is just an arse, he shouldn’t be allowed out on his own. It’s a shame that SA Rugby seem to condone his stupid behaviour and are willing to defend him, they have a very good team who are being tainted by a village idiot.

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  8. Dear dear. The comments on here from defenders of Rassies behaviour is quite something to behold.

    WR need to justify why it took so long to make the decision.

    I criticise Scottish Rugby regularly. What they can’t be criticised for is the disciplinary process in the amateur game. A club coach who did that would be lucky to escape with a ban and I’m sure sine die would be considered.

    I’m with Gregor. If this type of stuff is to be “allowed” where will it end?

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  9. Have to agree. I thought Stuart showed his lack of class by bemoaning the fact his team lost, rather than congratulating the opposition for being better on the day. Now I see where he gets it from, his coach is just as sore looser. Grow a pair Scotland

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  10. This is rubbish, if Rassie had not stepped in as always Gatland would have driven the narrative around the referees which he started with the comments about Marius Jonker. It is not acknowledged but SA never get the rub of the green because of their style and bully boy reputation and Rassie had to change that narrative. Did he overstep the mark probably but there also need to be done about the unconscious bias that exists. On the sledging this is just a whinge, I believe he was referring to MacLean but he spoke in Afrikaans and I don’t think MacLean is one of the many Saffas in the Scottish side?

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  11. Much of South African Rugby and far too many of its fans have lots their collective minds. The appropriation by old white men of hundreds of years of rascal by white South Africa on black South Africa to create a “them v us” narrative is grotesque, The comparison of Berry with Epstein beyond the pale. All of this framed in a truly abysmally one eyed assessment of teh ref decision in one game and a persecution complex which is believed despite fact that they – check notes – won the world cup. They won it playing dull attritional Rugby and another ref might have winged them for their constant break down infringements or slow play gamesman ship but not so. Because there is no conspiracy. That Bill Beaumont should move on is another issue all together.

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    • You mean like the 100’s years old institutional racism in English cricket now being played out in the media? The one-eyed criticism of the Springbok rugby style coincidentally started after the 32-12 massacre in the RWC final and the B&I Lions loss. Move on mate.

  12. Everyone here like to jump on the band wagon.. why is referees untouchable and cannot be criticized. Have you all forgotten what happened when Craig Joubert stuffed up in the World Cup semi final Scotland vs Australia, handing the game to Australia which Scotland should have won??

    Lets be honest referees are making WAY more mistakes than they should, I understand they are human but there is Assistant referees and TMO’s so one would think 95% of the mistakes should not happen. Its a professional sport with coaches and players jobs on the line so match officials should not influance matches with costly mistakes.

    The Rassie video was send through the correct channels as it is normally done by coaches of international teams. From my understanding the video was leaked from a different source but even if it came from Rassie, Nic Berry should just grow a pair and own up to he had a off day.

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    • Yes, the officials’ ‘mistakes’ are entirely planned and deliberate, just like Erasmus’ behaviour. Excellent comparison, well done.

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    • I think you should read the judgement.

      RE threatened NB, got the clarity he’d asked for and caused the video to be released publicly anyway.

      The panel of independent judges unanimously found RE to be responsible for the public release of the video – it has a 15min intro in which he discusses it being shared with media and supersport specifically, he justifies making the video even if it leads to him being punished, he contracts a supplier to create the video who does not password protect it or otherwise ensure it is only viewed by the ‘intended’ recipients, when he discovers it has been viewed by people in Australia and the UK when views are in the dozens he does not request it to be taken down. It is simply not remotely plausible that RE did not intend for it to be made public.

      Refs make mistakes but realistically, in any game they make hundreds of split second decisions. At a single ruck or contact there may be half a dozen potential transgressions that a referee must decide whether they are ‘material’ or not. referees are not beyond criticism, but this should be handled professionally in private. Referees are routinely appraised after every game and coaches always have opportunities to both share criticism after games and seek clarity before matches.

      We are on a very slippery slope if rugby starts accepting referees being publicly harassed by coaches and subjected to internet abuse by thousands of fans with the sanction of their national unions.

      Rugby values might sometimes appear lofty and divorced from the reality of professional rugby, but if we abandon them we will risk being left with a poisonous mess.

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  13. A very unpleasant individual and Townsend has nailed how he brings the whole game into disrepute with his antics.

    Poor, slow and weak from World Rugby.

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  14. Well my first impression of Erasmus some time ago was that he showed all the classic signs of being a Bully with, in all probability, more mouth than ability and nothing I have seen recently has changed my opinion.
    With regard to World Rugby and their statement that ‘Erasmus has been banned from all rugby activities for two months, suspended from all match-day activities until September’.
    I haven’t, I admit made an effort to check but why do these restrictions not cover specific number of games, in other words if there are not fixtures of consequence in the next couple of months or until next September, what’s the point?
    As regards the amount of time it has taken World Rugby to get its backside into gear, all it has done is allowed Erasmus to continue strutting about with his El Duce impressions up to and including Murrayfield.
    Not necessarily within my capabilities [to be honest] as I enter my Alikadoo years but he has joined a small but select list of individuals who I would like to ‘stick one on’ at the first available opportunity.

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  15. The water boy role should be restricted to non-coaching staff. You shouldn’t be able to have a DoR, scrum coach or whoever pacing the touchline and shouting instructions within metres of the play.

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    • But it’s ok if you guys do it right? Like Neil Jenkins on the field during the last lions tour? Love your double standards.

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      • But is that not what David is saying, that no coaches of whatever level should be on the touchline? He’s not saying Jenkins on the pitch is OK, just stating there should only be medical staff and water carriers allowed.

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      • You didn’t David. He’s just a strawman troll too stupid to realise he is only highlighting his coach’s appalling behaviour.

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      • Apart from the fact that you don’t seem to have any standards, let alone double ones, it is apparent that you, for obvious reasons, wish to deny the World the chance to praise your words of wisdom by remaining anonymous, the best place for you.

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  16. So he’s been allowed to intimidate another officials, including the one who refereed this game against Scotland.

    Additionally, in the absence of any ruling by World Rugby, Gardner was not to know they would stand up to him this time. So he quite possibly felt as intimidated as Berry did, and bent towards the SA team when it mattered.

    Erasmus is an utter scumbag, and personifies the win at all costs approach we’re seeing throughout both SA, and some others sides too.

    Diving, harrassing officials, faking injuries to kill time, crawling slowly to each set piece, physios at pitch side communicating key tactical information, etc etc etc.

    Starting to realise just how rotten their entire setup truly is.

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    • Lol 😂 the scots weren’t good enough. Now it’s not the ref who had a bad day, it’s the SA DoR who pressured him into a shocker! Definitely the land of Shakespeare so creative. When they published the Scottish team at first glance I thought it was the SA second string. How many players do NZ,SA and Oz poach from your crusty shores? Zero, nil and none. If your teams fielded locals you’d get a hiding second too none.

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      • For someone with such a low regard for Scottish rugby it’s very odd that you spend your time reading and commenting on this website. Very odd indeed!

        P.S. Three out of 23 players doesn’t exactly make for an SA-dominated team, have a bit of a think before typing next time…

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      • “Zero, nil and none” – incorrect Max. One Scottish born recently playing for the ABs and one Scottish born playing for England.

      • ‘The land of Shakespeare’!!! Thanks for confirming it but we realised you cranial capacity and the void within from your earlier contributions.

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    • Such an unfair comment. What Rassie did is common practice. The way he did it however was wrong. Especially the tone towards the ref. But to label the entire setup, including the players and support staff as you have done is without merit. I know the South Africans to be proud and honest people. I’ve seen the negativity some of the folks in here in the UK have thrown their way and it’s very unfair. They’re a good team that is trying to motivate a country with some serious challenges. Let’s keep things in perspective.

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      • fair comment IMHO
        All teams have assistant coaches go on the park acting as water boys. Some even carry water. Except the head coach. I do think it needs clarified.
        I wouldn’t say the whole of the SARU set up is rotten, but I do think they need to have a rethink; not just Erasmus bullying refs, but a assistant coach told by Nienaber to go and harass a touch judge during a game- that is on the record and Nienaber subsequently admitted he was wrong abut the decision that upset him, but no apology for harassing the official.
        They are bringing their Union and country into disrepute. A country with so many other issues, they really don’t need that. I’m not happy about that either, and it may be unfair, but it is what happens.

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      • I mean the union is condoning RE behaviour so have to take responsibility.

        I also take a fairly dim view of the allusions to racism that have been levelled at NB on a v flimsy basis, to put it charitably. That is really cynical.

        I’m sure the players are as fine a group of men as any other INT rugby squad. But the leadership of the set up needs to be accountable for what has been pretty disreputable behaviour.

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      • Something that has become very noticeable since the Lions tour is just how fragile many South African rugby fans are on social media. Very, very defensive, ensconced upon their high horses and unwilling to countenance the idea that their players or staff could ever be in the wrong.

        Trawling the internet for people who aren’t 100% admiring of you is a worrying habit – I’d do something about it.

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    • South Africa setup may be “rotten” as you said but there is a reason why SA is World Champions and Nr1 in the IRB Rankings… and Scotland only at 7

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