Rassie Erasmus has garnered support from the deep pockets of Sharks owner Marco Masotti, who has threatened to ‘put World Rugby on trial’ in throwing his backing behind the South Africa director of rugby.
On Monday, Erasmus was told by World Rugby he would face a misconduct hearing after posting a 62-minute long video last week lambasting the performance of referee Nic Berry in the Boks’ first Test defeat.
SA Rugby will also be summoned to discuss the matter with an independent panel, with a date yet to be finalised.
The governing body said that ‘match officials are the backbone of the sport’ and condemned public criticism of officials.
Despite vowing to step away from the remainder of the Lions series should World Rugby take issue with his video, Erasmus has now received backing from a senior partner at MVM Holdings, the US firm who purchased a controlling interest in the Durban-based Sharks in January, and urged to fight his case.
In a post on twitter, Masotti said: “I have a team of New York lawyers ready to take care of Rassie and SA Rugby. Let us put World Rugby on trial.”
Masotti’s claims have the potential to fuel an already distasteful episode of controversy that has marred the conclusion of the Lions tour.
Seeking to resolve the situation, World Rugby issued a statement on Monday confirming a misconduct hearing for Erasmus and SA Rugby.
The statement read: “Having conducted a full review of all the available information, World Rugby is concerned that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials.
“The extensive and direct nature of the comments made by Rassie Erasmus within a video address, in particular, meets the threshold to be considered a breach of World Rugby regulation 18 (misconduct and code of conduct) and will now be considered by an independent disciplinary panel. The date and panel will be confirmed in due course.”
This in turn has been met with disbelief by Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who saw no reason why the Lions were dragged into the statement.
Prior to the second Test, Gatland refuted ever criticising the appointment of Marius Jonker as TMO for the series opener as the South African was needed to replace the originally scheduled appointment of Kiwi Brendon Pickerill.
Gatland clarified that he had simply sought World Rugby’s explanation over why the back-up plan for Pickerill being unavailable lied at the feet of Jonker.
On Tuesday, Gatland addressed the World Rugby statement and said he had been left disappointed at the Lions being included.
“There has been so much said about that kind of stuff,” Gatland said. “The only thing I am disappointed in World Rugby’s statement is that I felt they have inadvertently dragged us into it.
“We have tried to maintain as much integrity as we can in terms of we haven’t been commenting on refereeing, we never questioned the integrity of 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 if people had got sick.
“That was the only question that we had asked. So yeah, really, really disappointed with a part of the statement where they said both sides have been making comments and been critical of the officials.
“I’d like someone to show me where we have done that because we have looked through everything and we can’t see any instances where we have been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we gave praise to the officials.”