Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has offered to step down from the final two Tests matches against the Lions after launching an unprecedented attack on referee Nic Berry in an extraordinary hour-long video.
After an excoriating takedown of one their elite referees, World Rugby confirmed it will raise his outburst with the South African Rugby Union.
Erasmus would appear to have broken at least four of World Rugby's disciplinary regulations, which is likely to bring a disrepute charge. Senior figures are understood to be aghast at what is seen a clear assault on the values of the sport and will want to send a strong message.
Erasmus was incandescent at Berry's performance and the speed of the feedback that South Africa received from World Rugby as he compiled 26 clips of mistakes or inconsistencies that went against the Springboks in their 22-17 first-Test defeat. Most controversially, he alleges that Berry did not afford his World Cup-winning captain, Siya Kolisi, the same respect as Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
The video, which is apparently addressed to Joe Schmidt, World Rugby's director of rugby and Joel Jutge, the head of match officials, but was leaked on to the internet.
"We felt things didn't benefit us on the field form staying quiet," Erasmus said in reference to the pressure the Lions put on the officials in the build-up to the first Test.
Erasmus, who has been acting as water carrier during South Africa's matches, almost dared World Rugby to punish him.
"If this means we are going to get a fine, I will step away from the management team," Erasmus said. "If this means the Springboks will be in trouble, I will say I did this in isolation. It is me personally that did this, it is not SA Rugby, it is not the Springboks, because I believe in fairness. I believe two teams must have an equal chance of competing in a match.
"I've had previous encounters saying things in public about referees and it normally comes back to bite you, but the Lions only comes around every 12 years and it should be fair that I'll step away from these last two Test matches, but let the two teams have an equal chance on the field when it comes to laws, respect, the way players are treated, what is said in the pre-match coaches' meeting with referees, how they give feedback and are seen in the media.
"I am not saying the referee was a cheat at all. I am saying we just wanted clarity on a Sunday night which we have now got on a Tuesday. To be honest I am not very convinced with the clarity that we got from Nic Berry in this match."
Erasmus clearly insinuates that the Lions successfully influenced the officiating of the first Test.
Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, suggested that scrum half Faf de Klerk should have been sent off for a high tackle in the match against South Africa A. The Lions also criticised the appointment of Marius Jonker, a South African, as the television match official for the Test series after the original choice, Brendon Pickerill, pulled out.
"The narrative the Lions are trying to put out is that we don't know the laws, we're playing on power, and we don't respect the laws of the game," Erasmus said. "We feel we got no joy with anything because we were quiet last week, and they were all over the media."
On Tuesday, Erasmus posted a compilation of decisions that went against South Africa on Twitter with the strong suspicion that someone within the Springbok set-up had set up a burner account called Jaco Johan. He is particularly angry that the feedback was not delivered until Wednesday when the Springboks named their team for the second Test, although this is a standard wait time for World Rugby.
In one incident, he highlighted how Lions wing Duhan van der Merwe appeared to spear tackle Makazole Mapimpi, sarcastically saying, "if that's allowed just tell us, we would have loved to hear that on Sunday night, and we could have practiced that on Monday or Tuesday. According to me it's very dangerous."
In perhaps his most serious accusation, Erasmus effectively accused Berry of being dismissive of Kolisi.
"The way they listened to Siya compared to the way they listened to Alun Wyn was definitely not with the same respect," Erasmus said. "There was a vast difference between who he was taking seriously and who he wasn't taking seriously. Siya said at the meeting he would never talk to him [the referee] unless there was something that was really bothering him. It's almost like he is having a laugh at Siya."
Jones, the Lions captain, seemed slightly nonplussed by the suggestion he held greater sway over Berry.
"In the heat of the moment it didn't really feel as if we had any advantage because a lot of the time I was standing there next to Siya when we were speaking to the refs etc," Jones said. "So that's an outside perception that I probably can't really comment on."
A World Rugby statement said: "World Rugby notes the comments made by Rassie Erasmus. The nature of these will be raised with the union via the usual channels and no further comment will be made at this stage."
New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe is in charge of the second test this weekend.