No Lions UK and Ireland tour would be complete without a touch of mental warfare, but this summer’s offscreen crashing has carried more volume than most.
Lions coach Warren Gatland and South Africa manager Rassie Erasmus traded blows in the media ahead of Saturday’s first test, discussing everything from tackling technique to referee etiquette.
But no subject has drawn more attention than Gatland’s reaction to Erasmus playing the substitute role when South Africa ‘A’ beat Lions 17-13 earlier in July.
Rugby director Erasmus – who still has a leading role in training the Springboks alongside Jacques Nienaber – donned a bib and took to the pitch to give instructions to his players.
Gatland did not like the incident, who said after the game: “Last night he was a water boy and he was running on the pitch. I think if you are the water carrier running on the ground you need to make sure you are carrying water.
“I didn’t understand what his role was. You don’t run around the field giving messages and stuff if you are the water boy without carrying the water. My advice is to make sure it carries water the next time it does. “
Gatland also suggested that Springboks scrum-half Faf de Klerk could have seen red for a high tackle, which led to Erasmus retaliating by tweeting clips questioning Owen Farrell’s tackling technique.
And the Lions shooter has since delivered another damning verdict on Erasmus as a water carrier, which is technically legal in his current position.
“Well, World Rugby regulations say that a coach or manager cannot be in the technical area on the side of the pitch,” said Gatland.
“I guess they’re arguing he’s not the head coach, he’s the director of rugby. And they had him at the World Cup with Nienaber having a physiotherapy qualification able to impart messages and do so as well.
“So listen, I’m not too worried about that, it’s just that I’m not sure this is the best look for the game, but it’s their decision and I’m going to live with that. appeal and they ‘”do not legitimately break the laws or the rules of the game in terms of guidelines.
“I made a joke about it because I thought it was pretty funny.”
Former referee Alain Rolland dubbed Erasmus head coach “in everything but name” in his Daily Mail column, where he recommended World Rugby ban the South African figurehead from such stunts in the future.
Nienaber is currently the head coach and he served a similar dual role as a messenger in South Africa’s triumphant race to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The 48-year-old was an assistant coach but also a field physiotherapist for the team at the time, using his skill to impart tactics on the pitch during breaks in play.
The back and forths only increase tensions ahead of Saturday’s series opener at Cape Town Stadium, where Gatland threw up a few surprises with his squad announcement.