Warren Gatland insists Lions praised, not criticized umpires during South Africa tour

Warren Gatland believes South Africa dragged the Lions into the mud during this series with their disrespect for umpires, which he called for speeding up play in the decisive Test.

The British and Irish tourists and Springboks have been part of a series of gossip and bad blood, culminating in Rassie Erasmus’s extraordinary hours of reprimand from the officials after the first Test.

World Rugby, the governing body, intervened late this week to say they would investigate the South African union and their rugby director, but also warned the Lions about their behaviour.

Warren Gatland believes South Africa dragged the Lions in the mud during this series

The British & Irish tourists and Springboks have been part of a series full of bad blood

The British & Irish tourists and Springboks have been part of a series full of bad blood

That referred to the Lions having doubts about their contingency planning around the official televised match, which was to be New Zealander Brendon Pickerill, but unable to fly due to Covid restrictions, the job was given to South African Marius Jonker.

And Gatland was annoyed World Rugby has treated those concerns in the same way as Erasmus’s unprecedented public diatribe.

“The only thing I’m disappointed with World Rugby’s statement is that they accidentally dragged us in a bit,” Gatland said ahead of the third test in Cape Town this Saturday.

“We have tried, we think, to maintain as much integrity as possible, in terms of not commenting on umpires. We have never questioned the TMO. The only question we asked was why World Rugby didn’t have a contingency plan if people couldn’t travel or got sick.

Rassie Erasmus' hour-long insult to officials after first test saw World Rugby roll in

Rassie Erasmus’ hour-long insult to officials after first test saw World Rugby roll in

“That’s the only question we asked. So I’m really, really disappointed with part of the statement where they say both sides have made comments and are critical of the officials.

“I’d like someone to show me where we did that. We have gone through everything and we cannot see any cases where we have been critical of the officials. In fact, I think we praised the officials.’

Gatland also revealed that he spoke to former Irish coach Joe Schmidt, now at World Rugby, to ask them if they could appoint a neutral TMO for the final two tests, but were unsuccessful.

“It’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the umpires couldn’t come here?” he asked.

“We had contingency plans in place for a number of things in case something happened to Covid so we would be covered.

New Zealand referee Pickerill

South African official Jonker

But the Lions have also been warned after questioning the decision to replace Brendon Pickerill (L) with Marius Jonker (R).

‘So there was no question that people were involved. What we questioned was the process.’

Gatland added that the Boks must “swallow it and move on” with decisions that go against them – and called on them to show more respect to officials.

“Every four years there is a World Cup and I think the second biggest thing on the world rugby calendar is the Lions,” he said.

“You don’t want to be in a position where one of the match officials could potentially be criticized or questioned. We’ve already had that, where these officials were accused of being disrespected and not making the right calls and possibly being influenced.

“That’s disappointing, I think we need to make sure for everyone that we respect the officials as best we can.

“They have a tough job, there was a lot of talk about certain decisions and phone calls and sometimes you just have to suck it up and move on.”

Gatland spoke to former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt (center) about a neutral TMO.  to ask

Gatland spoke to former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt (center) about a neutral TMO. to ask

He makes six changes to his base XV – Liam Williams for Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams for Anthony Watson, Bundee Aki for Chris Harris, Ali Price for Conor Murray, Wyn Jones for Mako Vunipola and Ken Owens for Luke Cowan-Dickie – and adds Finn admits Russell and Sam Simmonds to the bench, Gatland wants the Lions to attack.

But he asked referee Mathieu Raynal not to buy the South Africans’ time-wasting tricks, which slowed play down so much in the second Test that the first half lasted 64 minutes – clearly beneficial to their physical, combative style.

“We are talking to officials to make sure we keep the game going,” he added.

“We felt like with every scrum there was an injury, which slowed the game down. I think there was about 14 minutes of TMO time in the game and we worked pretty hard from a conditioning point of view, but it was really a stop-start and that made it frustrating for us.

“You want that flow in the game and we’ve seen from other games that when we had that pace we played really good rugby.

“We want to keep the pace of the game up to get the ball in our scrums and get the ball in quickly at lineouts, to play and to get a flow. And South Africa doesn’t want to do that right now.

Gatland asked referee Mathieu Raynal not to buy South Africans' time-wasting tricks

Gatland asked referee Mathieu Raynal not to buy South Africans’ time-wasting tricks

“Everything is so stop-start it gets frustrating. It’s definitely not something in our favor and we need to work on that and make sure we keep up that pace this weekend.

“I know that Alun Wyn Jones has talked to the referee a number of times about keeping things going. We had deck changes, we had TMO decisions, we had the referee stop the game because of cramp.

“So that will be one of the things I’m going to talk to the umpires this week.

“We need to make sure we don’t have 60-minute halves. I think it’s important that we maintain the game flow of the game, and certainly from the spectator’s point of view. We want to see great rugby at the weekend.”

.