South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus suspects that England will be happy with Ben O’Keeffe’s appointment to referee the two sides’ upcoming World Cup semi-final. The New Zealander also took charge of the Springboks’ narrow win over France, with Les Bleus star Antoine Dupont critical of his performance after the final whistle.
Eyebrows were raised when World Rugby gave O’Keeffe the honour of overseeing Saturday’s clash. Dupont suggested that France were hard done by in the quarter-finals due to the way the 34-year-old refereed rucks.
“I don’t want to be a bad loser and moan about the refereeing,” said the France captain. “But I am not sure the level of refereeing was up to what was at stake today.”
Erasmus has since downplayed the importance of the appointment, and the former Barbarians head coach even suggested that England boss Steve Borthwick will be just as happy due to O’Keefe’s refereeing style.
Rassie Erasmus has discussed the referee appointment for South Africa vs England
“We also had Jerome Garces as our referee for the opening game of the last World Cup, and then the semi-final and final as well,” Erasmus explained, with O’Keeffe gearing up for his third South Africa game of the tournament.
“I guess it’s a bit of an unknown, either positive or negative. It will be best for the team that stays within the laws and hopefully doesn’t have rugby accidents, causing cards, although I think that’s one thing that Ben has really done well. I think Borthwick will be as pleased [as us] if he referees the game like that again.”
O’Keeffe has responded to Dupont’s criticism, acknowledging that the comments were made ‘at an emotional time’. “We’ve done my review and we’ll reach out and be able to get things back on track as well but I understand obviously the sentiments after a big match like that,” he continued.
The Springboks are heavily fancied going into Saturday’s showdown, with Jacques Nienaber’s side gunning for a second consecutive Rugby World Cup triumph. England, however, can take encouragement from the fact that Ireland got the better of South Africa in the pool stage.
Ben O’Keeffe has already taken charge of two South Africa games at this year’s tournament
Not to mention Borthwick’s side being unbeaten after five matches, with a 30-24 win over Fiji punching their ticket to the semis. “They are unbeaten in the tournament and have stuck to their guns and kept believing in what they were doing under Borthwick,” Erasmus added.
“You can see it’s paying off. They are a team full of belief. They will be definitely hurting not only from last year when we beat them but also the 2019 World Cup final.”