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'Lost the plot': Fans fume as Pablo Matera escapes red despite Sam Gilbert-like tip tackle

By Sam Smith
Photo / Twitter

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Fans have been left questioning the consistency of Super Rugby Pacific officials after Crusaders flanker Pablo Matera managed to escape a red card despite tip-tackling Reds centre Jordan Petaia on Friday.

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The Crusaders scored a 28-15 victory over the Reds in Christchurch to cement their second-place finish in the competition’s regular season and lock-in a quarter-final clash against the Queenslanders at Orangetheory Stadium next weekend.

The result was marred by controversy, though, as Matera was fortunate to avoid being sent off after dumping Petaia on his head during a clean out at a ruck.

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Matera’s actions mirrored those of Highlanders first-five Sam Gilbert, who was last week red-carded by referee Nic Berry for the same infringement when he landed Waratahs star Michael Hooper on his head from a breakdown clean out.

Gilbert was subsequently handed a five-week suspension by SANZAAR, bringing an end to his Super Rugby Pacific campaign, leaving fans to question why Friday’s official Ben O’Keeffe didn’t send Matera off for such a similar incident.

Instead, the Los Pumas loose forward was given only a yellow card, with O’Keeffe and television match official Shane McDermott determining that Matera had dangerously lifted Petaia before landing him on his back and shoulder.

That’s in spite of the fact that replays appeared to show that Petaia had landed on his neck, as highlighted by Sky Sport commentators Justin Marshall and Taylah Johnson.

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Nevertheless, O’Keeffe and McDermott ruled that Matera’s actions only warranted a yellow card, which the O’Keeffe said was an upgraded from the penalty he was initially set to hand out.

That resulted in spectators being confused over rugby’s laws and consistency of officiating, especially in the wake of Gilbert’s red card last week.

One fan brought into question how Matera’s infringement wasn’t worthy of a red when England lock Charlie Ewels was sent off for an innocuous head knock against Ireland in the Six Nations earlier this year.

Others said rugby had “lost the plot” and that the sport’s current laws “have replaced any semblance of common sense”, while some were sceptical as to whether Matera would have been red-carded if he was playing for a team other than the Crusaders.

Despite the outcry spurred on by call that the officials made, O’Keeffe and McDermott did receive some support, with one punter offering some sympathy to the referees.

Matera may not yet have escaped the wrath of the SANZAAR judicial committee, who may view his indiscretion differently to that of O’Keeffe and McDermott.

Should he be cited for the incident, Matera would run the risk of ending his one-season spell with the Crusaders earlier than expected through suspension.

However, Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson defended his star man, whose services he said he was hopeful of retaining ahead of next week’s playoffs.

“We’re pleased with a yellow. He tried to stop and he knew when he got to that point, he didn’t go through with it, which is probably a saviour for him,” Robertson said post-match.

“It’s taken out of his hands now, in a lot of ways. He’s in such a rich vein of form and he’s been so good for us. Hopefully that’s just it, that’s happened on the field.”

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