Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde criticised World Rugby’s “lack of foresight” for allowing South African Marius Jonker to be installed as television match official for the series against the Springboks.

The Lions only discovered on Wednesday that Jonker was going to be the TMO for the first Test on Saturday after the original appointment, Brendon Pickerill of New Zealand pulled out due to Covid-related travel issues. Lions boss Warren Gatland was left furious by the lack of contingency planning by World Rugby, who are responsible for the appointment of all the officials.

“It was a bit unexpected,” McBryde said. “We only found out on Wednesday. There’s a slight like lack of foresight because there’s a reason why that position is neutral. There’s no plan B put in place. You’ve just got to get on with it really.”

The Lions’ frustration also stems from decision not to send off Faf de Klerk for a high tackle on Josh Navidi in South Africa A’s defeat of the tourists last week in which Jonker was again the TMO. Gatland later said that someone was “watching a different picture to me” over the decision to just yellow card the Springbok scrum half. It does not help the perception of Jonker’s neutrality that his son, Rynhardt, plays with several Springboks at the Cell C Sharks.

The Lions on Thursday met with the first Test referee Nic Berry, of Australia, along with his assistants

New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe and France’s Mathieu Raynal. McBryde, however, expressed confidence that the officiating team will get the big decisions right. “We met the three officials who were officiating on the weekend,” McBryde said. “We went through everything that’s happened up to date. They’re reluctant to pass any opinion on what’s happened. 

“They’re aware of it and they’re confident in the comms they’ll have on the weekend that between the three of them, or four of them I should say sorry, come to the right decision. The role in the TMO, his say is pretty final with regards to communication between him and the referee. It is a very important position. I’m sure there will be no issues on weekend.

Marius Jonker was the TMO for the Lions' match against South Africa A


“It’s very much a clean slate. There’s consistency between the referees, that’s what they’re aiming for. We had a good discussion in and around a lot of things that have happened to date. But the impression I got really was that they wanted to move on and that they trust in their own decisions and communications and the understanding between the three of them, so hopefully that will come to the fore on the weekend.”

World Rugby insist they had no option to turn to a non-neutral official for the Lions test given the short notice and the complexity of travel during the pandemic. They also insist that the Lions were always aware of the contingency plans with Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper on standby as the on-pitch officials.

Who is Marius Jonker?

He was an international referee for 10 years from 2004 to 2014 and took charge of matches at the 2007 World Cup. He became a television match official and was the man in the box for the 2019 World Cup semi-final match between England and New Zealand. 

Why is his appointment as TMO so controversial?

As a South African, he is a non-neutral official for the biggest rugby match of the year. His son even plays with several Springboks. The Lions were already feeling aggrieved about the refereeing decisions, especially the Faf de Klerk yellow card, in their 17-13 defeat to South Africa A and this appointment is fuelling their persecution complex. 

How much power does a TMO have?

It is no exaggeration to say that a TMO’s intervention can shape a game’s outcome. It is their job to pick up what the on pitch officials miss and with the game being played at such a furious pace they can miss a lot. It was Jonker, for example, who called the De Klerk tackle being high. However, it is still the on pitch referee who has the final decision and against South Africa A it was Jaco Peyper who chose to give De Klerk a yellow card.

Has Jonker attracted controversy previously?

Even England supporters with short memories will probably remember that it was Jonker who as TMO helped to rule out Sam Underhill’s potential match-winning try against the All Blacks in 2018 for the most marginal of offsides against Courtney Lawes. 

Why did World Rugby not have a contingency in place?

Local referees are the contingency. There were 35 international matches, including World Cup qualifiers, going on this summer across the summer. Ensuring they all have neutral referees is a logistical nightmare, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Had the Test series taken place a week later then Nic Berry and Ben O’Keefe, the Australia and New Zealand referees, would have been unable to travel to South Africa. Hence the contingency was always for local officials to come in. Telegraph Sport understands that Jaco Peyper and Wayne Barnes are also on the standby list if any of Berry, O’Keefe or Mathieu Raynal become unavailable.

Why could they not employ a TMO based in France or Australasia? 

Great in theory, but less so in practice, particularly with four days notice from a Test match. No matter how bad the perception of Jonker being in the box that would be preferable to the feed being lost or hijacked between the officials in the Cape Town Stadium and a TMO thousands of miles away.