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The Roar


'We stuffed it up': Springboks apologise for waterboy incident

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4th October, 2021
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Jacques Nienaber has apologised and taken responsibility for the incident that almost saw one of his coaching team dismissed from the field on Saturday for harassing an assistant referee.

“I’ll put my hand on up and say we got it wrong, and we asked him to challenge,” explained Nienaber after the Test.

The incident came about when the Boks thought they had managed to earn a 50-22 and secure the throw-in at the lineout well inside the All Blacks’ half. It would have been a good position to launch an attack and with the scoreboard so tight, every scoring opportunity was important.

But referee Matthew Carley instead decided that the line out was not a 50-22 as the ball had been passed back inside the Boks’ half before being kicked out – meaning the new rule didn’t apply.

Nienaber apparently then ordered his waterboy to get an explanation from the assistant referee. The waterboy appeared to be chasing and shouting at the assistant to get him to overturn his decision, rather than calmly asking for clarification.

Carley felt it was over the line and paused play to take the waterboy to one side and provided clarification of a different sort. “If I see you chasing our touch judge up the line again, you’ll be off,” said the referee.


The incident was all part of the theatre that helped make Saturday’s Test one to remember for long to come.

Going into the match there had been plenty of criticism aimed at the South Africans, not just for their style of play but also for tactics that many felt were used to slow the game down with questionable stoppages. Former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was quoted in multiple outlets as calling the stoppages the “elephant in the room”.

The Springboks tactics and communications around the officials have drawn plenty of attention this year. During the Lions series earlier this year, some pundits questioned the Boks use of their medics during game play.

In the third and deciding Test match, one of the Boks staff could be seen just a few metres behind their defensive line, not attending to any players, while the Boks tried to organise their defence. It didn’t go unnoticed and drew plenty of criticism.

During the same series, Rassie Erasmus published his now infamous hour-long video, where he criticised the match officials from the previous Test against the Lions. Erasmus and the South African Rugby Union were charged by World Rugby and are awaiting to appear before an independent disciplinary committee.

The punishment could range from a simple fine all the way up to having the Boks extraordinarily stripped of their series victory.


On Saturday, as the final Test of the Rugby Championship unfolded, there were several flash points between the two sides as both fought to assert their dominance with the packs coming close to blows a few times.

Following the Test, Nienaber explained that he and his team had just got it wrong when it came to the 50-22 laws and that they were still getting used to the rule. “It’s a new concept for us. It’s not something that we have played, and it’s a rule that changed. We were so sure, but then we looked back at the video and saw that we got it completely wrong,” said the coach.

With the Boks currently scheduled to play Scotland, Wales and England in a busy November, it will be interesting to see how the officials deal with the South African tactics and if they are quite so patient.