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'Tough to take': Highlanders disappointed following Asafo Aumua's suspension

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Highlanders prop Ethan de Groot and assistant coach Clarke Dermody have expressed their disappointment following the three-week suspension of Hurricanes hooker Asafo Aumua.

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Aumua was one of three Super Rugby Pacific players suspended by SANZAAR on Monday after he pled guilty to reckless and dangerous play during his side’s 22-21 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

The six-test rake was cited by the SANZAAR judiciary committee after he connected his shoulder with the head of Highlanders flanker Gareth Evans while cleaning out a ruck late in the match.

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The incident left Evans with a black eye but went unnoticed by the officials, leading Highlanders captain Aaron Smith to take aim at the referees in his post-match television interview.

Upon review, SANZAAR opted to ban Aumua for the next three rounds, meaning he won’t be available for the Hurricanes until their round 13 clash against the Waratahs at Leichardt Oval in Sydney on May 14.

That comes as little consolation for the Highlanders, though, as Dermody called for more consistency from officials after Highlanders lock Josh Dickson was sent from the field earlier for a similar incident in the first half of that match.

“Yeah, it is a bit tough to take,” Dermody said on Tuesday of SANZAAR’s decision to suspend Aumua, which is effectively an admission that the 24-year-old should have been red carded during the match.

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“Obviously it doesn’t help us now, but we understand referees have got a big job, and as we’ve talked about, head contact is not good for the game, but if you’re going to pick up one, you’ve got to get them all right.

“I think it’s such a big impact on the entertainment, and ultimately results.”

Dermody’s sentiments were echoed by De Groot, who took a more philosophical approach on the matter despite being equally unimpressed by the handling of Aumua’s indiscretion.

“Yeah, it is a wee bit disappointing that it didn’t get looked at or it sort of got brushed under the rug, but, to be honest, we had plenty of opportunities in that game to win,” De Groot said.

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“To lay it all on that, I don’t know. I don’t care, I’ll just move on.”

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Aumua will be joined on the sideline by Dickson, who has also copped a three-week ban after his shoulder made contact with head of Hurricanes prop Tevita Mafileo during a tackle.

As such, Dickson won’t be part of the 27-man Highlanders squad that is set to embark on a three-week tour of Australia and Fiji.

De Groot labelled Dickson’s infringement as “a bit unlucky”, while Dermody accepted the reasoning behind the decision to send the second rower off given the current climate in which the game is being officiated.

“I understand why it’s happening. You’ve got to protect the players’ heads. It’s obviously a big part of the game, and, technically, he obviously got that wrong, so if that’s the precedent which has been set out, then I understand why,” Dermody said.

“Up until that minute, Josh had played every moment of every game. He’s been in our team a long time, and, this year more than ever, his consistency has been outstanding.

“He’s going to be a loss for the couple of weeks, but what it does is give someone else an opportunity, so we’ve got full confidence in our squad that those boys will be able to come and do the job.”

The Highlanders will now turn their focus towards this week’s match against the Brumbies in Melbourne, one of six matches to be played in the first-ever Super Round at AAMI Park.

With just one win from eight matches, the Highlanders are desperate for success against Australian opposition and the Fijian Drua over the coming weeks, but De Groot warned that there is no guarantee of victory against the second-placed Brumbies.

“We know that they’re a big forward pack and they get a lot of wins out of their big ball carriers and their set piece, so for us, again, nailing our collisions and taking them on up front at set piece time,” the four-test All Black said.

“The Aussies probably think we don’t we respect them, but we’ve just got to respect them. They’ve got some classy footballers and we just need to front up for them.”

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