There were dramatic scenes in the second United Rugby Championship semi-final amid a red card for eye goughing and an 85th minute match-winning converted try for the Stormers against Ulster in Cape Town.
The home side were reduced to 14 men on 70 minutes when replacement lock Adre Smith was sent off for making contact to the eye area of Ulster’s Iain Henderson with his hand.
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Yet despite being down a player, they claimed the spoils deep into added time, with full-back Warrick Gelant touching down and fly-half Manie Libbok just squeezing the conversion between the posts from wide out on the left to break the hearts of Ulster who had held on to their 15-10 interval lead up to that heart-stopping finale.
The red card followed Ireland and Lions second row Iain Henderson winning a lineout. At the resulting maul, Smith’s left hand came round onto the Ulsterman’s face. Henderson then made an allegation of eye contact to Scottish referee Mike Adamson who reviewed the footage with Welsh TMO Ben Whitehouse.
Giving his verdict, Whitehouse said: “They are obviously fighting for position in the maul, but his hand is in the face of the yellow player (Henderson) and it’s in and around the eye area.”
Responding to this, Adamson says: “So I’ve got clear contact with the eye or eye area. That’s a serious act of foul play and has to be a red card because there is hand and fingers in and around the eye area. He knows where the face is, he knows he can’t put his hand into the face.”
Commentating for Premier Sports, former Scotland international Jim Hamilton said: “I have been gouged and, let me tell you now, it’s not nice. Mike Adamson, with Ben Whitehouse as TMO, has whipped out the red card and it was clear as that to them.”
It’s not the first time Smith has been in serious trouble this season. Back in October, he was banned for eight games for biting Munster hooker Niall Scannell in a URC match at Thomond Park.
On that occasion, Munster captain Peter O’Mahoney told referee Andrew Brace that Scannell had “a full-on bite mark” on his thigh, following a tussle on the deck. Neither Brace nor the TMO felt there was enough evidence to take action during the game, but Smith was subsequently cited and found guilty by a disciplinary panel and suspended until mid-February. Now he could face an even longer ban.
The Stormers will now meet the Bulls in an all-South African URC final in Cape Town next Saturday (June 18) with a 6.30pm kick-off. The Bulls defeated reigning champions Leinster 27-26 in the first semi-final in Dublin on Friday night.