Rassie is a good guy; his fans not so much
INTERVIEW: Former Springboks captain Bobby Skinstad has backed the trenchant way Rassie Erasmus defended South Africa during their recent year-end Tests.
However, he admitted the abuse meted out by Erasmus fans to Wayne Barnes and his family was disgusting.
World Rugby took issue with what they felt was the sarcastic nature of his tweets commenting on refereeing incidents in the losses to Ireland and France and they banned the Director of Rugby from attending the final two tour games versus Italy in Genoa and England in London.
Skinstad and Erasmus go way back, fighting it out on the pitch against each other as players at franchise level and also for Springboks team selection.
It was a back row rivalry that he touched on during a guest appearance on this week’s Evening Standard Rugby Podcast, Skinstad telling Lawrence Dallaglio: “So Rassie and I competed for the same position for ten years and there was zero love lost.
“I can say that honestly, he is a bloody good guy and he is a very intelligent, very hard-working, good rugby man.
“So we liked each other but we wanted to whack the hell out of each other every time we played against each other. We played in finals against each other, we literally competed for the same [Test] jersey and I liked him.
“I don’t think he has taken away from the victory [over England] at all. He does have his own sideshow and he will attract blame for that. Eddie Jones has also worked a platform and his platform has been traditional media and he plays it like the violin and he has done it seriously well.”
It was at this point in the conversation that former England skipper Dallaglio interjected, voicing his concern over the behaviour of Erasmus and wondering if it could negatively impact on the Springboks when they seek to successfully defend their World Cup title next year in France.
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“We all agree on Rassie’s achievements as a player and then as a coach,” he explained.
“He came in two years before the World Cup and won it for South Africa.
“The guy is a hero back home, no doubt about that, and with a lot of justification, but there is a process for criticising referees.
“I used to try and do it within the 80 minutes rather than outside. But I mean you just wonder.
“South Africa is clearly going to be World Cup contenders next year, no doubt about that. Upsetting the world’s best referee and attacking him publicly personally and bringing a lot of heat on his family on social media, I wonder how wise that is a year out from the World Cup.
“Referees do tend to remember these things and they do tend to stick together, and I just don’t think it [the tweets from Erasmus] has a place in the game.”
Taking his cue to come back, Skinstad replied: “You’re right and I’m not hiding from that. Let me just unequivocally say any verbal, physical, written abuse that has gone on to referees, whether it is Wayne Barnes and his family or whatever, is disgusting. But I don’t think you can attribute the blame for all of that directly at Rassie trying to protect his team. Those are two different issues.
“I’m with you: I don’t think it [Twitter] is a platform that you should be using to criticise referees so we agree on that but he is posting it because he is trying to help South Africa to win – which is his primary job.
“What I will say is I will defend Rassie saying, ‘That my No.1 is the South African rugby team and if that is what I need to do to protect the South African rugby team I will do it’. What I don’t protect is whether that is the right personal decision at the time, do you know what I mean? I can’t.
“If you look at his internal coaching staff, how many people have gone, how many people have moved away because of him being a horrible, vicious person? Zero. The players, they are unequivocal, he is doing what he thinks is best to help us to win rugby games and I can respect that.”