Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika called Toni Pulu’s red card decision an overreaction that marred the competition in the Super Rugby AU qualifying final.
Western Force winger Pulu was sent off at the end of the first half of the Brumbies’ 21-9 win in Canberra on Saturday to stage a big rematch against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane next weekend.
With a one-man advantage, the Brumbies scored through Tom Banks immediately after referee Nic Berry’s decision to open a significant 12-3 lead they were able to hold through a tense match.
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Berry didn’t hesitate to hit red after Pulu’s shoulder left Brumbies center Irae Simone stunned.
“The shoulder straight to the head, there is no mitigation,” Berry told Force Captain Kyle Godwin.
But speaking at halftime on Nine and Stan Sport, Cheika strongly disagreed.
“I really think intention is an important thing in these decisions,” Cheika said.
“We have an incredibly exciting finale… if it comes with intention and a swing arm, yes by all means go have a shower brother early.
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“But I don’t think there is any fault or intent in that. He doesn’t even know he’s done anything.
“A yellow card, yes, but a red card is very difficult for me.”
Former Wallabies center Morgan Turinui, however, said Berry had no other option under World Rugby guidelines to protect players.
“We want the players to lower their goal – that’s a red card these days,” said Turinui.
“We have to draw a line in the sand.”
While Cheika believed the Force had briefly bowed its head after this pivotal moment, Australia’s top two teams would clearly meet in the final.
After a weekend off and with the home advantage, the Reds will become favorites despite the loss of Wallabies center Hunter Paisami to injury.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar is also sweating over the health of three test forwards – Pete Samu, James Slipper and Folau Fainga’a – who failed to complete the game.
McKellar said all three were in serious doubt for the final.
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But Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa was just relieved to get there.
“I think I’m the most proud of the boys’ effort,” said Alaalatoa.
“You could tell from the first half that it was very physical and that the force did everything it couldn’t let us in.
“But we came out in the second half and knew we had to be clinical and take the points when they were offered.
“There is a lot to learn there and a lot to build from next week.”
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