Lions tour 2021: Stuart Hogg offers robust defence of referee Ben O’Keeffe after Rassie Erasmus video rant

Stuart Hogg has offered a robust defence of referee Ben O’Keeffe following Rassie Erasmus’ extraordinary attack on the match officials from the first Test between the Lions and South Africa.

Australian referee Nic Berry, with arm raised, and his assistant Ben O'Keeffe, from New Zealand, speak to Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones during the first Test against South Africa. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

O’Keeffe will take charge of the second Test in Cape Town on Saturday having been a touch judge in the first match which the Lions won 22-17.

Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, posted a 62-minute video critique of the performance of first Test ref Nic Berry and his assistants which is now being looked at by World Rugby.

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The Lions camp claim to have not watched the Erasmus footage and had nothing but praise for the match officials.

Lions full-back Stuart Hogg has praised referee Ben O'Keeffe who will take charge of the second Test with South Africa. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

“In the short time I’ve been Scotland captain Ben O’Keeffe has been one of the best refs I’ve had to deal with,” said Hogg, who will line up at full-back as the Lions seek the victory that would clinch the series.

“He almost coaches you around the field at the same time. We ask questions and he’s very calm in his answers. He’s good at communicating and that’s why a large majority of the games where he’s involved, they’re allowed to flow and get on with it.

“He helped me massively in the couple of games we’ve had him when I’ve been leading the side. I think everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but the refs are the ones that run the game. They have a huge amount of respect from us as players. I’d hate to do the job if I’m honest. Ben’s been one of the best refs I’ve had to deal with as captain.”

O’Keeffe, a New Zealander, took charge of Scotland’s Six Nations match against Italy in Rome last year and also the pool match with Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Referee Nic Berry, and his assistants Mathieu Raynal and Ben O'Keeffe, were subjected to heavy criticism from Rassie Erasmus, South Africa's director of rugby. Picture: EJ Langner/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Among the many criticisms Erasmus made of Australian official Berry is that he treated South Africa captain Siya Kolisi and Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones differently.

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Erasmus, who coached South Africa to their World Cup triumph, used 26 clips to highlight perceived mistakes and inconsistencies from Berry, who is an assistant for the potentially decisive second Test.

Robin McBryde, the Lions forwards coach, was reluctant to get drawn into the Erasmus controversy and having met with the officiating team alongside head coach Warren Gatland on Thursday, he declared himself happy with the choice of referees.

“As Ben O’Keeffe said himself, we’re aware there’s a lot of stuff out there on social media etc but that’s not going to affect anything,” McBryde said.

“That’s just a sideshow. We had a positive discussion with the referee. They’ve got a tough job to do. But we were really happy with Nic Berry last Saturday and I don’t think it will be any different this weekend.

“On Ben we have no issues. He is a top man and we are looking forward to working with him on Saturday.”

McBryde is concerned that traditional rugby values are being eroded.

“Traditionally rugby has prided itself on showing respect to the officials. No back chat etc,” said McBryde who also voiced his objection to the trial in the Rainbow Cup of a new law that allows decisions to be challenged.

“Right from a very young age players are taught that you can’t speak back to the referee. Hopefully that will continue.”

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