GREGOR TOWNSEND has accused South Africa’s under-fire Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, of committing a “character assassination” on a Scotland player during last Saturday’s Test match at Murrayfield.

And the Scotland coach added that his only criticism of World Rugby’s sanctioning of Erasmus on Wednesday for bringing the game into disrepute during last summer’s Lions tour is that it took too long for the global governing body to reach its verdict.

Erasmus has been banned from all rugby activities for two months and suspended from all match-day activities until September, having been found guilty of six charges, including threatening referee Nic Berry during last summer’s Lions tour.

The punishment was announced on Wednesday meaning that Erasmus was allowed to be pitch-side as a 'water boy' at Murrayfield last Saturday as South Africa muscled their way to a win over Scotland, and the home head coach believes that his behaviour was unacceptable on that occasion as well.

“I wasn't really aware of it at the time, but someone showed me a video of him making comments about one of our players, a character assassination or sledging or whatever,” revealed Townsend. “That's not the role of coaches; it's not the role of anybody on the side-lines to be doing that.

“If we want our sport to go down a different route then we allow these things to happen. That was really disappointing to see, and I know it wasn't the only incident over the weekend, over that game.” 

Erasmus became a figure of ridicule and derision during the Lions tour when he took on the role of ‘water boy’ meaning he could be on the touchline during games. Head coaches are banned from performing the role and entering the field of play to impart messages directly to the players, but there is nothing in the rules to stop a Director of Rugby doing it. Lions head coach Warren Gatland pointed out that there were times he was when Erasmus was on the pitch speaking to players without carrying any water during the Lions match against a Springbok A side in the lead-up to the first Test.

The 49-year-old former Springbok captain then took it a step further before the second Test of the series when he starred in a video monologue lasting over an hour in which he dissected the performance of Berry in the first Test, focussing on decisions which had gone against his team and claiming that Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, was not shown the same respect by the match officials as opposite number Alun Wyn Jones.

As well as the suspensions, Erasmus has been ordered by World Rugby to publicly apologise to the Lions match officials and has been warned over his future conduct. South Africa Rugby has been fined £20,000 for failing to ensure that their employee complied with World Rugby’s code of conduct. Both parties have announced their intention to appeal the verdicts.

“I think that was a real bad episode for our game,” said Townsend, who was an assistant coach during the Lions tour. “I was there at the time, so I experienced what was going on, and I later spoke to Nic Berry about it and he went through a real tough time, and so did his family.

“That was a real shame and a pity that these things can happen in our sport. I don't think it could have been allowed to continue.

“Those antics … we can't fall into that trap of winning at all costs and putting pressure on individuals.

“It has been a while for that decision to come,” he added. “That would be my only frustration, that it has taken so long to come to this decision.”

Townsend added that he hopes the strong – if overdue – stance taken by World Rugby on Wednesday will be the catalyst to regular clamping down on similar incidents, which he believes are becoming increasingly frequent in the game.

“We got to the decision that was announced yesterday, but for me this is the tip of the iceberg,” said the Scotland coach. “We've seen a lot of incidents where people on the side-lines are trying to intimidate players and officials. Going onto the field of play as well to either coach their team or intimidate officials on the field. It's got to stop.

“I would urge World Rugby to make further changes. Why do we need coaches on the side-lines? If they are on the side-lines they have to live up to certain behaviours and values that we pride in our game, which sadly I felt over the summer and since then have been lost.”