JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Lions coach Johann Ackermann did not enjoy the farewell he was hoping for as his 14 men slipped to a 25-17 defeat in the Super Rugby final against the Canterbury Crusaders, suggesting an early red card ruined what was shaping up to be an even contest.
Ackermann will start work at English side Gloucester on Thursday, ending his four-year stay with the Lions that has included two Super Rugby final defeats.
Flanker Kwagga Smith crashed into an airborne Crusaders fullback David Havili as he tried to pull out of a contest for a high ball and was sent off by referee Jaco Peyper a minute before halftime at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Ackermann did not dispute the officials were right in terms of applying the rules, but says red cards for such incidents are wrong.
“I made a point when Robbie Coetzee got a red card (in May) how I feel about them. I don’t think 63,000 people paid money to see a 15 versus 14 game,” Ackermann told reporters.
“A player can get disciplined afterwards, I stand by that, especially if it is not outside the law in terms of a kick to the face, a punch or dirty play.”
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson agreed the red card had a bearing on the result. Ackermann says they still back Smith after his costly error.
”He’s a great person, when he was four times man of the match, everybody loved him, so why would that change? Again, it is an interpretation about physics and a law. That’s my problem, a law says one thing but common sense says another.
“He’s been tremendous for us through the whole season, we can’t judge him on one incident. We respect and love him as a person.”
Ackermann gave praise to the Crusaders, who he felt managed the game well.
“Credit to them, they did their homework and contested well. You can’t take anything away from them, they are a quality side. You could see how calm they were when we got closer, how cleverly they slowed everything down. They are well-deserved champions.”
Ackermann admits he has been emotional at the thought of his departure to Gloucester.
”I didn’t think it would be this difficult. I always thought it would be easy to move on. But I really battled with my emotions today, from this morning, I think I shed a lot more tears than I thought I would.
“It’s tough, I must admit that this morning I doubted if I had made the right decision. But it’s not about me, it’s about what God has got planned for me and maybe I must go and make a difference somewhere else.”
Reporting By Nick Said, editing by Neil Robinson