The Lions have been accused of “blatant intimidation” ahead of Saturday’s first Test against the Springboks over the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as television match official.
A row is raging after reports that Warren Gatland was “furious” that there was no neutral alternative for such a high-profile encounter after the original TMO, New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill, withdrew amid pandemic-related travel disruption.
The Lions were only told about the switch on Wednesday.
Read more:Warren Gatland’s anger
Jonker acted as TMO for the Lions’ defeat by South Africa A last week, when Gatland was vexed after a dangerous tackle by Faf de Klerk on Josh Navidi didn’t result in a sending off.
But some in the republic believe the tourists are putting pressure on Jonker heading into the encounter in Cape Town. Indeed, an unnamed former South African Test official went even further with his assessment of the situation.
“They have put Marius in a very difficult position should a controversial incident occur,” the ex-official is quoted as saying on the SARugbyMag website.
“To me this is blatant intimidation, putting the TMO in a no-win situation.”
The individual in question said the decision to use Jonker was made by World Rugby, not South Africa.
“Marius as a first-class referee and is now an equally good TMO,” he added.
“Of course he makes some debatable decisions. Every official does.”
Gatland hasn’t spoken publicly on the matter, but media reports have pointed to his apparent unhappiness over the whole affair.
And Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde explained the tourists’ frustration, saying of the call: “It was a bit unexpected.
“We only found out on Wednesday.
“There’s a slight lack of foresight because there’s a reason why that position is neutral.”
The ex-Wales hooker conceded, however, the Lions had no choice but “to get on with it”.
Undoubtedly, the fuss does put Jonker under increased scrutiny, though.
A borderline call, and remote Amazon tribespeople might get to hear about it.
The Springboks had their say on the matter through assistant coach Mzwandile Stick at their pre-game press conference: “As a Springbok team, we don’t appoint the officials,
“That’s a job for World Rugby, so I won’t go deep into that and say we are happy or unhappy with the officials because it’s not in our hands.
“One thing I know for sure is that those guys are all professional and all respect that job.
“To us, it doesn’t affect us, the main thing is focusing on how we are going to play the game. If they (Lions) have a problem with that, they can go and have a chat with World Rugby regarding that.”
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Stick also made clear Springboks director of rugby Rassie Eramus will continue to act as the team’s water boy, despite Gatland taking pot shots.
Erasmus donned a bib and ran onto the pitch when South Africa A played the Lions recently, appearing to use the position as a means of delivering instructions to home players.
But South Africa will not be changing the way they do things any time soon.
“Rassie will be running the water again tomorrow,” said Stick.
“That is his role now in the team, to assist Jacques Nienaber as head coach.
“He will be there and he will be running around, bringing water on to the field to the players. We as Springbok rugby are happy with that.’
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