“I Spoke To Joe Schmidt” – Warren Gatland Confirms World Rugby Request Following First Test
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British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has confirmed he approached World Rugby about bringing in a different TMO for the second and third Test following the controversy surrounding Marius Jonker’s appointment.
Jonker, who is South African, was drafted in on short notice as TMO for the three Tests after it was revealed travel restrictions would prevent Brendon Pickerill from fulfiling the role for the series.
The Lions only discovered the news on the Wednesday night before the first Test and were understandably upset at the process of no contingency plan in place by World Rugby should this happen, especially given their awareness of everything that is going on in the world right now with COVID.
His appointment led to increased pressure on officials, leading them to become the centre of attention for the duration of the series, sparking a huge debate that has somewhat tarnished the rugby itself.
“I don’t want to comment on his performances or anything but we found out on the Wednesday night before the first Test.” Gatland said when asked to go back on the Jonker appointment again.
“Our understanding was that [the TMO was going to be] Brendon Pickerill. World Rugby had known for at least a week or so that there was a possibility that he wasn’t going to be travelling to South Africa and that’s what raised our concerns.
“We weren’t notified about that and [questioned] why there weren’t contingency plans.
“The biggest thing next to the World Cup for World Rugby is the Lions and you don’ want to be in a position where you can potentially be criticised or questioned.
“And we’ve already had that where officials have been accused of being disrespected, having made the right calls and been potentially influenced. And that’s been disappointing and I think with everyone, we need to make sure we respect the officials as much as we possibly can.
“They have a difficult job. Without them, we couldn’t play the game. There’s a lot at stake and I understand it can be frustrating at times, but sometimes you just gotta suck it up and get on with it.
“We’ve been trying to go through the process, we’ve been talking about the referees. Tomorrow there’s a couple of things I want to go through.”
Gatland also revealed that it was former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt (who now works for World Rugby) that he spoke to following the appointment, and made it clear that there was never a “question of integrity” – rather a question of the process itself.
“I did yes,” Gatland said when asked if he tried to get a different TMO out for the second Test.
“I spoke to Joe Schmidt who’s involved [with World Rugby] and asked him to just please give me some clarity on the decision, and just asking why plans hadn’t been put in place regarding this.
“And it’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn’t have made it out here? We’ve been putting in contingency plans for a number of things.
“There’s never been any question about the integrity of the people involved, what we questioned was the process.”