'I spoke to Joe Schmidt' - Gatland unhappy at World Rugby dragging the Lions in

The Lions boss says they tried to have the TMO changed before the first Test.

Gatland with Joe Schmidt in 2019.
Gatland with Joe Schmidt in 2019.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

LIONS HEAD COACH Warren Gatland has expressed his displeasure at the tourists being “dragged into” World Rugby’s statement regarding misconduct during their Test series in South Africa.

World Rugby last night confirmed that Rassie Erasmus and SA Rugby have been charged with misconduct after the director of rugby’s 62-minute video criticising first Test referee Nic Berry and the governing body’s processes around match official feedback.

However, Gatland has taken exception to part of the statement that said World Rugby had “reminded the management of both teams” of the importance of not criticising the selection or performance of match officials.

Erasmus previously suggested that the Lions started the criticism by questioning South African television match official [TMO] Marius Jonker’s integrity after he was appointed to the series to replace Brendon Pickerill of New Zealand, who was unable to travel to South Africa.

Gatland insists the Lions never criticised Jonker, instead simply questioning why World Rugby didn’t have a back-up plan in place to ensure the Test series had a neutral TMO.

“The only thing I’m disappointed about in World Rugby’s statement is that they’ve kind of inadvertently dragged us into it,” said Gatland today.

“We’ve tried to, we think, maintain as much integrity as we can, in terms of we haven’t been commenting on refereeing. We never questioned 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 got sick.

“That’s the only question that we had asked. So I’m really, really disappointed with a part of the statement where they’ve sort of said both sides have been making comments and being critical of the officials.

“I’d like someone to show me where we have done that. We’ve looked through everything and we can’t see any instances where we’ve been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we’ve praised the officials.”

Gatland said the Lions only found out about the change of TMO on the Wednesday before the first Test but added that the tourists later learned that World Rugby had known about Pickerill’s potential unavailability far earlier.

rugby-union-rbs-6-nations-championship-2010-scotland-v-england-murrayfield Former international referee Marius Jonker has been on TMO duty. Source: Mike Egerton

“We only found out subsequently that World Rugby had known for at least a week or so that there was at least a possibility that he wasn’t going to be travelling to South Africa,” said Gatland.

“That’s what raised our concerns. We weren’t notified about that and why there wasn’t a contingency in place for it happening. Every four years there’s a World Cup and I think the next biggest thing on the world rugby calendar is the Lions.

“You don’t want to be in a position where any of the match officials can be potentially criticised or questioned. We’ve already had that, where these officials have been accused of being disrespected and haven’t made the right calls and have potentially been influenced.

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“That’s been disappointing, I think for everyone we have to make sure we respect the officials as best we can. They have a difficult, difficult job, there was a lot spoken about certain decisions and calls and sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and get on with it.”

Gatland confirmed that he and the Lions attempted to have a neutral TMO appointed when they learned that Jonker would be on duty for the three Tests.

Gatland spoke to World Rugby’s director of rugby and high performance, former Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, but wasn’t able to ensure another late change.

“I spoke to Joe Schmidt who is involved to give me some clarity on the decision and just asking why plans hadn’t been put in place regarding this,” said Gatland.

“It’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn’t make it out here?

“We’ve had contingency plans for a couple of things in case things happened with Covid so that we’d be covered. So, there was no question about people being involved. What we questioned was the process.”

- This article was updated at 6.54pm to correct a typo in the word ‘neutral’ in the fifth paragraph.

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Murray Kinsella

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