Australian referee Nic Berry has accused SA Rugby’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, of a “character assassination” after the former Springbok head coach was handed a ban by World Rugby on Wednesday.
Erasmus compiled and released a 62-minute video that targeted 26 instances of Berry’s performance in the Springboks’ defeat to the British and Irish Lions in their first Test in Cape Town earlier this year.
The 2019 World Cup-winning coach is banned for two months from all rugby-related activity and from all match-day related involvement until the end of September 2022.
Statement included in judgement
A statement from Berry was included in an 80 page written judgement from World Rugby.
“Needless to say, the whole situation has been an extremely difficult time for my family and I,” he told World Rugby’s judiciary panel.
“As a match official, I understand that our performances will be heavily scrutinised, especially in such a prestigious tournament. However, the public attack on my integrity and character is not something that should be tolerated in any workplace.
“I considered officiating in a Lions tour comparable with that in a World Cup. The appointment is a honour which few achieve. However, due to the actions of Mr Erasmus, my family and I have endured a significant amount of distress, and we will only have negative memories of the whole experience.
“I feel that Mr Erasmus engaged in a character assassination of me on social media. I have spent many years trying to build my reputation as an international referee, and in the course of his video, which was posted online, Mr Erasmus has caused it immeasurable damage.
“Though a small proportion of the rugby community will follow the outcome of this matter, and in the process obtain an accurate account of what really occurred, the wider rugby community will only be aware of me in the context of this incident.
“I feel that regardless of the outcome and any sanctions imposed, my reputation as a referee and person will forever be tarnished.”
World Rugby has said Erasmus threatened a match official – most likely Berry – that the video footage would be released unless the official met with him. A threat the South African followed through with.
“Throughout this whole ordeal I’ve maintained my professionalism despite being the target of an unprecedented personal attack played out in the media,” said Berry.
“I felt that Mr Erasmus’ video brought into question my professionalism and my integrity as a match official and that there was an inference to be drawn that I was in some way cheating as an official, which is obviously completely untrue.
“My reputation throughout the rugby community has suffered immeasurably from his actions, and I acknowledge that the impending investigation will likely lead to more public scrutiny and unwanted media attention.
“However, his actions are against everything our game stands for and I feel it’s important to take a stand against such behaviour. I sincerely hope that the outcome of the independent judicial hearing will set a precedent to discourage similar behaviour in the future so that no person has to experience what I have these past few weeks.”
It only got worse for South African rugby as the union were found guilty on two more accounts following comments made by captain Siya Kolisi and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick in the aftermath of the first Test against the Lions.
SA Rugby has been fined £20,000, given a warning and Erasmus is required to apologise to Berry and the remaining match officials.
The governing body has since announced that they will appeal the verdict.
“Neither party will make any further comment until the process is complete,” SA Rugby and Erasmus said in the joint statement.
The Springboks recovered from the first Test loss to win back-to-back, claiming the series. However, the 2021 Lions tour will always be tainted by the off-field drama.