Mr Alexander said he would be writing to all 15 member unions of SARU, urging their disciplinary committees to take the strongest possible action against individuals and clubs under their authority who physically or verbally abused match officials or failed to adequately protect officials.

“These hot-headed thugs who physically assault officials have no place in the sport and should be banned for life from participating or attending,” said Mr Alexander.

“We must protect our match officials – without whom there would be no sport – and the message must out go out in the strongest possible terms that such actions will not be tolerated.”

Mr Alexander was speaking following incidents involving assault on officials in the Eastern Cape.

“Attacks on referees are rare but when they occur provinces must not hesitate to act,” he said. “These attacks have been condemned by the relevant unions and I trust they will follow through by bringing these matters before disciplinary committees.

“I shall be repeating our message of ‘zero tolerance’ for such behaviour with our members.”

Mr Alexander stressed that physical abuse of match officials is regarded as the most serious offence a player or official could commit. That was reflected on World Rugby’s schedule of recommended sanctions. The entry-level sanction for a player physically abusing a match official is 24 weeks, which rises to a life ban as the maximum sanction.

“There can be no sympathy or toleration of the assailants,” said Mr Alexander. “There is no reason at all why anyone involved should lay a hand on a match official. If it does not happen in the most pressured environment of Test rugby, why should it happen at a club match? It must be clamped down on most severely.”