Cape Town - Reds coach Brad Thorn has hit out at critics of referee Angus Gardner after the official handed out SIX cards in their win over the Sunwolves on Friday.
Thorn was left frustrated by a match which his side won but without ever getting into a rhythm - in part because of their own errors but also because of the 28 penalties blown and six cards dealt out to players in a match that at one stage featured just 26 players on the field.
The Sunwolves seemed determined to test experienced referee Gardner’s nerve around offside penalties, continuing to play cynically despite several warnings and two yellow cards in the first half, including one for a professional foul by wing Semisi Masirewa.
But the match descended into farce in the final 10 minutes.
With the visitors already down to 14 men after Masirewa was handed a second yellow card - and therefore, an automatic red - after a marginal high tackle on Reds wing Jock Campbell early in the second term, Sunwolves replacement Yu Tamura was sent to the bin in the 70th minute following repeated infringements by his side.
And when Sunwolves No 8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco and Reds lock Harry Hockings tussled at the back of a ruck with five minutes remaining, both sides lost another man.
Hockings could face further sanction after being red carded for hitting Warren-Vosayaco in the head with his boot after he lashed out in an attempt to free his leg from the back-rower’s clutches.
“I’ll just sound like a coach defending his player but you get grabbed by the foot - I don’t think he was looking at him - and he’s tried to pull out of it, goes to stand there and he might have nicked his cheek or something and they gave him a red card,” Thorn said of the Hockings decision.
“Probably the message is: ‘Don’t hold his foot’.”
Asked what he thought of Gardner’s performance though, Thorn came to the defence of the referee, who has been widely criticised for handing what is understood to be a record number of cards to one team.
“It must be hard. He’s a really good man, the referee, and the guys he works with,” said Thorn.
“You’re in charge of this game and you’re trying to officiate it but you’re also trying to have a game happen.
“It could be an awkward responsibility out there. You’re trying to send a message around infringements but if it keeps happening, where does it get to? You end up with 12 men, it’s less than a league team.”
Showing rare perspective for a coach whose team’s season is on the line, Thorn said he felt for match officials.
“I’ve never envied that job. You always have your frustrations as a coach or a player (about) decisions that have been made or the game that’s happened but far out, put your hand up if you want to take that role,” he said.
“It’s a solid role, you don’t get too many people patting you on the back saying great game, you’ve got to take your hat off to those guys.
“I imagine a game like tonight isn’t the most enjoyable game for those guys to have, they just want the game to flow.”
Sunwolves coach Tony Brown also reflected on the game, saying: “It was frustrating how it went for us tonight around multiple yellow cards and a red card.
“It’s hard to win a game of rugby when you’ve got 12 men on, so it was a tough night.”
Like Thorn, Brown did not envy the officials’ roles but he felt that in a World Cup year, referees were under pressure and it had showed in Gardner’s performance.
“I think the referees are under just as much pressure as the players, there’s World Cup spots coming up and everyone’s competing to make the World Cup as a referee and they’re all wanting to do well,” added Brown.
“Tonight, the referees didn’t handle the game very well, which created the spectacle that you saw.
“It’s one of the first times I’ve ever seen Angus Gardner under pressure in a game of rugby and he didn’t handle that well.
“I think he’ll be disappointed but I think he’ll look back at that game and hopefully learn from it and be better in the future - no different to any rugby player that plays the game.”