RassieGate: The contradiction in Nic Berry's evidence
SPOTLIGHT: World Rugby may have painted a picture of unequivocal evidence of Rassie Erasmus’ guilt, but their own documentation points to at least one major contradiction.
As the fallout in RassieGate continues, it has emerged that at least one prominent match official has contradicted Nic Berry – the Australian referee at the centre of the saga.
This dichotomy emerged from the 80-page written judgement in which World Rugby revealed that they banned Erasmus for two months for his criticism of the controversial Aussie ref, Berry.
Erasmus was also suspended from ‘all match-day activities’, including coaching, contact with match officials and media duties until September 30, 2022.
It means the world’s most famous (or infamous) water boy won’t be on the sidelines for the re-run of the 2019 World Cup Final – when England host the Boks at Twickenham on Saturday.
World Rugby played down the issues as a “difference of recollection” that has little or no bearing on the outcome and gave weight to Berry’s version.
“There is ample evidence, which we accept, which supports Nic Berry’s version of events,” judicial panel Chairman Christopher Quinlan said.
It revolves around a phone call that took place between Berry and respected South African referee Jaco Peyper on Sunday, July 25 – the day after the British and Irish Lions beat South Africa (22-17) in the first Test in Cape Town.
Peyper, in two instances, contradicted statements Berry made to the hearing.
“We considered with care the evidence of Jacob Peyper,” Quinlan’s report stated.
“He denied that during the call at 19.51 that night [July 25] Nic Berry told him that RE [Rassie Erasmus] had threatened to leak the clips on social media.
“He denied in robust and direct terms that Nic Berry showed him a draft version of his statement, which Nic Berry said he [Peyper] approved.”
The 80-page document also said Berry was “more circumspect” in his evidence and characterised the difference as “one of recollection”.
“We do not need to resolve that dispute between refereeing colleagues,” Quinlan said.
“There is ample evidence, which we accept, which supports Nic Berry’s version of events.”
In his report the Chairman admits the content of this incident was in dispute.
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“I’m able to get Jaco on the phone,” Berry is quoted as saying.
“We speak for 10 minutes. He tells me that Rassie has called him and wants him to comment on the clips.
“Jaco refuses and said that it is unprofessional and out of protocol. He says that Rassie is putting AJ Jacobs under pressure to comment on the clips as he is in camp with the SA team.
“We discuss the fact that Rassie has threatened to leak footage on social media. I ask Jaco for his advice and he suggests that I should try and get ahead of it and respond to Rassie’s clips.”
This is in contrast to Peyper’s testimony.
“Berry did not indicate to me that Rassie threatened to leak footage on social media,” Peyper is quoted as saying.
“He only asked for my advice whether he should provide answers to the video clips received from the Springbok management team and I recommended that from experience he should do so, as that often defuses the media reporting the next day as teams now engage with the referee and not the mainstream rugby media.
“My view, as expressed to Berry during the telephonic conversation, was that it would be preferable for him to engage with the Springbok management team rather than to ignore the request as in my experience, providing a response has had the effect of diffusing tensions between coaches and referees.
“This, in turn, leads to fewer comments in the media about refereeing decisions from previous matches and an increased focus on preparations for upcoming matches.”