Earlier this year, Erasmus came to the conclusion of his first World Rugby ban related to a controversial 62-minute video in which he criticised the governing body’s match officials – in particular Australian referee Nic Berry – after the first British & Irish Lions series Test in July 2021.
Erasmus was able to resume most Springbok job-related activities from mid-January, but will only be able to be involved on match-days from October onwards.
The infamous officiating video divided public opinion on either side of the equator, almost cost Erasmus his career, and in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, the director of rugby has also revealed what a toll it took on him and his family.
It came against the backdrop of the Lions tour nearly being called off due to Covid-19 concerns, and Erasmus has also interestingly revealed what it took to prevent the series from imploding.
“We had three games before the Lions Test series: two against Georgia and one midweek game between South Africa A and the Lions. We played Georgia at the end of the week and then we got 24 positive cases, so the next Georgia game was cancelled for good reason. Their coach almost died.
“Our plan was to play our Test team in the second game against Georgia and then play our toughest A team against the Lions to rough them up a bit. Soften them up. But according to the medical committee back in England, we weren’t even allowed outside of our hotel rooms to train.
“They wanted to cancel our midweek game and they didn’t want us to fly to Cape Town until two days before the first Test. I said, “No chance”. We couldn’t go and play the Lions after one game of preparation in 18 months. It would be a farce.
“I said to the Lions board, ‘I have spoken to my players and if this midweek game is off then the series is off’. It was a bluff. We couldn’t afford to call off the tour. If they had cancelled the tour I was ready to say I lied about having the backing of my players and I would have resigned.”
Ultimately, the tour was able to proceed, with South Africa going on to win 2-1 after fighting back from defeat in the first Test.
However, the series will always be remembered for the officiating controversy, which included claims that Berry had “disrespected” Kolisi and been far more accommodating when approached by Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
In the Daily Mail interview, Erasmus also touches on this subject and how some first reacted to his decision to appoint Kolisi as captain.
“Before the first Test I had a meeting with the match officials. I explained to the referee that the Springboks had not played for two years since the World Cup and our captain Siya Kolisi would be up against a team with four international captains.
“I knew from experience how they intimidate referees, so I asked that he must give Siya the same respect as Alun Wyn Jones, to which he agreed. People outside of South Africa might not understand this fully but having a black Springbok captain is a flammable situation in our country.
“I lost a lot of friends when I made Siya captain. There was a lot of nastiness. Before the World Cup, my daughters’ friends’ parents would say, ‘Tell that f****** father of yours to stop sucking up for a pay cheque’. People said it was political. The fight to get people to believe in Siya was a real struggle…
“I’m not saying Nic Berry is racist. Absolutely not. 100 per cent. I actually think he is a cool guy. But when you are in a volatile country with 54 million black people and six million white people then you at least need a conversation. I didn’t understand why Siya’s messages weren’t getting through: do they think he’s an a**hole?”