Left wing Zas was red-carded by New Zealand referee Mike Fraser in the 56th minute of Saturday night’s epic clash against the Waratahs at Newlands, and it reduced the Stormers to having to defend for their lives in the last quarter.
They nearly pulled off a remarkable triumph, but it was not to be as Tahs captain Michael Hooper scored the winning try with a minute left to give his team a 32-30 victory.
But the major turning point in a pulsating encounter was Fraser’s decision to send off Zas following a challenge on Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley in the air. As Zas tried to launch himself into the air, his right foot slipped – leaving a big divot in the ground – just as Foley went up himself to catch the ball.
There was minimal contact between the two, but the Tahs No 10 landed head first into the ground. Fraser, though, in discussion with TMO Shaun Veldsman, said that it was “not a fair contest” as Zas did not get into the air. Veldsman did point out that Zas had slipped, but Fraser was unbowed and issued Zas with his marching orders.
De Jongh remonstrated with Fraser and told him about Zas slipping, but the Kiwi said: “You have to understand, I can’t take that into account. At the point of contact, he’s put a man in the air in a very dangerous position, and he’s landed in a very dangerous position.”
In the post-match press conference, De Jongh said: “It is a tough one, and after what happened last week with Willie (le Roux), obviously the refs (wants to) do something about that, and safety is first priority. But I also feel that it was a little bit unlucky for Zas as he slipped a bit, and his eyes were on the ball.
“That was the ref’s call, and it’s not something that we will focus on or worry about. It is what it is, and it was always tough with 14 men. But I must give credit to the boys for getting stuck in there with 14 men, and we were still in it until the last five minutes. That’s a hell of a job, and I am proud of the boys.”
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck chose his words carefully, but the tone of his voice and look on his face suggested that he was frustrated with the call. He probably went too far in that regard to say that the red card didn’t cause the defeat, though, as the Cape side probably would’ve won had they completed the game with 15 players.
“It didn’t cost us the game. It was clear that we were in it to win it at the end there, and probably deserved to at the end. But credit to the Waratahs for good fighting and getting that try at the end,” Fleck said.
“But our boys did extremely well to play with 14 men and get back into the lead. But look, safety is first in the game and he landed in an awkward position. And technically, it is probably the right call.”
Sanzaar said in a statement that the matter will be considered by duty judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC from New Zealand, and the Stormers will be concerned that Zas could get a similar sanction as Jason Emery, the Highlanders player who took out Willie le Roux in the air and copped a four-week ban.
But Fleck was hopeful that Zas won’t be treated as harshly, and he said that the Stormers will continue to go up to win the ball in the air. “I think they will take into account that he did slip, and they might call it reckless, but there was no intent from our side,” the former Springbok centre said.
“We will continue to compete – it’s got to be a fair contest, and like Juan says, it was a little bit unfortunate, but the law is the law, and the safety of the player is paramount. It was just the way he landed, I guess… If he had landed on his hip, it would probably have been a different call.”
The Stormers have a bye this week, with their next game coming against the Sunwolves in Singapore on Saturday, May 14.
Original source: Zas ‘bit unlucky’ to get red card