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'It wasn't a red card': Crusaders 'hopeful' Pablo Matera will avoid ban despite send off

By Alex McLeod
Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz

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Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson is optimistic that Pablo Matera will be available to play in next week’s Super Rugby Pacific final despite the star loose forward’s red card on Friday.

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Matera was brandished two yellow cards, resulting in an automatic red card, in the first half of his side’s 20-7 semi-final win over the Chiefs in Christchurch on Friday.

The first yellow card was handed out by referee Nic Berry midway through the first half after the Crusaders gave away too many penalties in succession deep inside their own half.

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Pinged for not rolling away from a breakdown, Matera was then given a second yellow card just two minutes later upon his return to action for connecting with the head of Bryn Gatland during a tackle attempt.

Berry deemed that the level of danger in Matera’s tackle warranted only a yellow card rather than an outright red, but by being sent to the sin bin for a second time, the former Los Pumas captain was subsequently sent off for the remainder of the game.

Most players who have been red-carded for head contact-related penalties have banned by the SANZAAR judicial committee this season, but Robertson remains “hopeful” that Matera will still be free for selection next week.

“A lot of those tackles could have been slowed down, and I thought what Pablo did, I personally thought, was a penalty,” Robertson said post-match of Matera’s tackle on Gatland.

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“It wasn’t a red card. The red card goes to judiciary. Just because he got one yellow for a head-on, and the other one was for obviously not rolling away, we don’t believe mitigates to going to the judiciary.

“If that’s a red card, you’re on your way. We’re hopeful he’ll be available.

“We know red cards with head contact go to the judiciary, but it was yellow card, and there was a lot of mitigating factors, so we think the on-field sanction was enough.

“I don’t want to get too much over the top, but it’s what we’re planning for.”

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Should Matera be absent from next week’s final, which will be played against either the Blues in Auckland or Brumbies in Christchurch, the Crusaders would be without their normal star power in the loose forwards.

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That’s because All Blacks flanker Ethan Blackadder is out for the rest of the year after dislocating his shoulder in last week’s quarter-final win over the Reds, forcing the promotion of Tom Christie into the starting lineup against the Chiefs.

Christie and two-try No 8 Cullen Grace are likely to start again in the final, but who will partner them at blindside flanker remains to be seen.

If Matera shares Blackadder’s unavailability status, then the Crusaders may opt to thrust captain Scott Barrett into the No 6 jersey.

It’s there where Barrett played against the Fijian Drua three weeks ago, and he remains a bona fide blindside flanker option for Robertson if he is preferred ahead of other options such as rookie utility forward Dominic Gardiner.

A positional switch from lock to flanker by Barrett could offset by the potential return of veteran second rower Sam Whitelock, who missed the Chiefs match due to a thumb injury despite being named to start.

Robertson said Whitelock’s injury was monitored throughout the week before he was withdrawn shortly before kick-off, but maintained that the 33-year-old remains in selection contention for next week’s final.

“We gave him the opportunity to get there, right to the end, but it just wasn’t quite right,” Robertson said of Whitelock.

“He had a splint on the last game, actually, that we played, so he carried it through the week, trained okay, just got to today and we thought it would be better than it is, but it wasn’t, so hopefully it heals for next week.”

Robertson also downplayed the half-time substitution of star hooker Codie Taylor, who was replaced by Brodie McAlister due to a tight calf.

“His calf just got a little bit tight, so we made a call,” Robertson said.

“We made a decision, and Brodie went out there and he had a little bit of a pec issue, but he went solid and how he stayed out on the field so long, I was so proud of his effort. Incredible.”

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