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British and Irish Lions MUST beware the masters of the dark arts South Africa, warns Alain Rolland

ALAIN ROLLAND: The Lions MUST be wary of the masters of the dark arts in South Africa… Jacques Nienaber’s side are cunning, clever and STRONG!South Africa give you an exceptionally physical encounter when you play them Refereeing someone like giant lock Bakkies Botha was always difficult for me It is an intimidating atmosphere for a referee to officiate in as well, as I know 

The one thing that struck me when I walked into the South African changing room in 2009 was the sheer size of the guys. They were absolutely enormous. It’s hard to put into perspective how big those guys were. They had muscle on muscle.

I refereed the Emerging Springboks against the Lions in Cape Town. With any Springbok team, you know you’re going to be in the middle of an exceptionally physical encounter — and that was no different.

Refereeing someone like Bakkies Botha, their giant lock, wasn’t an easy job. He was incredibly physical but he would sometimes step over the mark. The Springboks liked to intimidate and get under the opposition’s skin. A lot would happen away from the ball.

The British and Irish Lions must be wary of the dark arts of South Africa in upcoming series

During that Test in Pretoria, Schalk Burger should have been shown a red card for gouging Luke Fitzgerald’s eye inside the first minute. Is it harder to send someone off after 40 seconds? It shouldn’t be, but it is. Referees are human.

You always get passion in South Africa. I was running the touchline for the Springboks against the All Blacks in 2002, when a fan ran onto the pitch and attacked referee Dave McHugh. 

This punter evaded all of the stewards around the edge of the pitch and left Dave with a dislocated shoulder. The stadium was full of testosterone. A local radio show had a phone-in poll to discuss whether this fan was in the right — and 70 per cent said he was! 

Back to the Pretoria Test, there could easily have been a couple of red cards in that match. Brian O’Driscoll could also have been sent off for his tackle on Danie Rossouw.

The game has evolved since then, though. It’s not acceptable to kick the hell out of someone if they’re on the wrong side of the ruck. Officiating has moved on, even since the World Cup in 2019. We still see flashpoints, but referees are better prepared to deal with it.

As is customary, all the coaches have been contacted by World Rugby’s referee manager, Joel Jutge. Joel has been through the focus areas — safety, speed and space — to ensure referees and coaches are on the same page. 

Lions vs South Africa are always a feisty affairs and there’s bound to be some red cards

SAFETY: Nowadays there’s a clear understanding around contact-in-the-air and tip tackles. The big focus will again be around head contact and the referee has to identify if the action is foul play or not. If it is deemed as foul play then it will be either a penalty, yellow card or red card. 

For a red card, you will hear the officials using phrases like direct contact, high degree of danger, lack of control, leading head or shoulder — and not being able to see any mitigating factors.

We see a lot of upright tackles because defending teams try to smother the ball carrier. The Lions used that approach a lot against Japan last week. It’s a risky business if you get it wrong.  

Former Springbok lock Bakkies Botha is one of the most difficult players I’ve had to referee

SPEED: We want a fair contest and quick ball at the breakdown. There are three things the referees will be looking out for.

1. The tackler must roll out of the way quickly, in the direction of either touchline.

2. Any assist tacklers must show a clear release before attempting to jackal.

3. The jackal must come from his own side, attack the ball and show a lift, in addition to supporting his body weight.

SPACE: Ultimately, more space enhances the spectacle because it gives players the ground to run. Dealing with encroaching players will be a big focal point.  

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