Lions coach Johan Ackermann slammed the process that led to Kwagga Smith's red card during their 25-17 Super Rugby final defeat at the hands of the Crusaders at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday night.
Smith was sent off in the 39th minute of the match after crashing into the Crusaders' David Havili, who was jumping to catch a high ball. Smith didn't deliberately try to take out Havili, but the fullback came crashing down on his shoulders after the Lions flank made contact with his legs while he was in the air.
Referee Jaco Peyper, who came in for heavy criticism from the New Zealand press following his performance in the semifinal between the Lions and the Hurricanes, consulted his the Television Match Official Marius Jonker before making a decision. Both Peyper and Jonker decided that a red card was the correct decision, despite the incident being an accident.
World Rugby has urged referees to be strict on such incidents to protect the defending player going for the ball in the air, putting the onus on the chaser to be careful when contesting the kick.
"I don't think 62 000 people paid to see an 15 vs. 14 game. So, a player can get disciplined after that -- and I stand by that -- especially if it's not dirty play like a kick in the face of a punch," Ackermann said after the final.
"I can't say too much, because one has to respect the officials' decision. One must take into account, if a player jumps in the air and goes forward ... Where must he go if someone touches his legs?
"But I suppose the New Zealand people are happy now -- that Jaco is a good referee -- because last week he wasn't a good ref."
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says the red card was the right decision, but felt sorry for the Lions and Smith that it had to happen in Super Rugby's showpiece match.
"The decision was the correct one. Jaco was calm and clear. He thought it was red, the TMO thought it was red. To the letter of the law it was red," Robertson said.
"It's just a shame it was in the final. Kwagga Smith has had an unbelievable season and it was a shame he had to get a red in the final. I think it had an influence on the outcome of the game.
"It's a shame for the Lions, because they have had a great season."
Ackermann says the Lions aren't going to blame Smith for losing the match, and has backed the Sevens Springbok to come back stronger from the disappointment.
Smith was one of the stand-out players for the Lions after joining them from the Blitzboks.
"He (Kwagga) is a great person and when he won four man-of-the match awards everybody loved him. So that won't change," Ackerman said.
"He is a great player and he has been tremendous for us throughout the season. We can't judge him just on the one incident. We still respect and love him as person, and what he brings to team off the field. He is a great character and that won't change."