Rugby-Boks say Lions coach Gatland lit touch-paper in referee row

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Stormers v British and Irish Lions - Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa - July 17, 2021 British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland wearing a face mask before the match REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa assistant Mzwandile Stick accused British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland of "destroying the dignity of the series" following his reported fury at the appointment of Marius Jonker as Television Match Official (TMO) for the first test.

South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has been under fire for an hour-long video that was released this week in which he used 26 clips from the 22-17 loss on Saturday to critique the match officials, including Australian referee Nic Berry.

But attack coach Stick has gone on the offensive, and suggests it was Gatland’s reported criticism of the appointment of South African Jonker as a late TMO replacement, which the Springboks claim put him under pressure, that lit the fuse.

"The integrity of World Rugby was challenged.. someone (Gatland) on the other side was questioning them on the decision that was made. I have not seen any statement from his side where he is apologising about it," Stick told reporters on Friday.

"That is something that destroyed the dignity of the series. To question the appointments made by World Rugby, that is where it starts. That is something we need to question. What is good for one side must be good for the other.

"It cannot be where one team is playing on a grass field and the other on mud. We are not asking for any favours, we just want a fair, equal ground for everyone."

The Lions did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Erasmus also claimed Bok captain Siya Kolisi had not received the same "respect" from Berry that was afforded Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones.

Kolisi would not be drawn into detail on the contents of the video, but did confirm he was unhappy with his treatment by Berry.

"I didn’t feel respected at all. I didn’t feel I was given a fair opportunity," Kolisi said. "I didn’t get given the same access to the referee. There is proof. If you watch the game again you will see that for yourself."

Kolisi went on to praise this Saturday’s referee for the second test, New Zealander Ben O'Keeffe.

"It is a new game and a new referee, I am sure Ben will give me a fair chance," he said.

Erasmus’ actions have since been slammed by Rugby Australia and he is also the subject of a World Rugby investigation.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis)

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