Peyper call at centre of Lions fightback
Lloyd Burnard - Ellis Park
Johannesburg - The crowd at Ellis Park on Saturday was all over referee Jaco Peyper in the first half.
With their side playing poorly for the first 35 minutes, the Lions fans turned on Peyper, feeling that he was not punishing the Hurricanes defensive line, which is always quick off the mark, for being off-sides.
With the hosts 22-3 down, it began to look like Peyper would need a security escort out of the stadium as profanities were hurled his way.
When the South African referee did eventually award the Lions a penalty for off-sides, the irate crowd erupted in a sarcastic cheer.
But the biggest talking point of the game, from an officiating perspective, came just before the hour mark when Peyper yellow-carded Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett for what he deemed to be a professional foul on the ground.
Peyper explained that Barrett had illegally knocked the ball away after making a tackle, but replays later suggested that the infringement had been completely unintentional.
It looked a tough call, and with the momentum with the home side for the entire second half, the Lions were seeing more decisions going their way.
When Barrett was sin-binned, the 'Canes were leading 29-22. When he came back on, they were 39-29 down.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd was clearly not happy with the decision.
"You know we're not allowed to comment on referee's decisions," he snapped at his post-match press conference.
Interestingly, Hurricanes captain Dane Coles was far more accepting of the call, saying that Peyper got it right.
Either way, it was a decision that had a big impact on the match and one that has given further weight to the argument that neutral referees should be appointed for Super Rugby matches, especially in the play-off stages.
"We saw last week against the Sharks the impact of a yellow card, for them and us," Lions coach Johan Ackermann offered, referring to his side's quarter-final win over the Durbanites.
"Today we saw it again. It is difficult already and then you give away a yellow card ... I think the Hurricanes experienced that today.
"It was created through pressure from the players and the good thing is they used that opportunity.
"The yellow card made a big difference, but I still think that the players' decision-making, intensity, calmness ... all those factors the guys did much better in that second half."
Lions skipper Jaco Kriel, meanwhile, reflected on the first-half discussion he had with Peyper when decisions were not going his side's way.
"I was just asking him about the off-side rule. We know the Hurricanes have a good line speed and I was just asking him to check the off-sides," Kriel said.
"He said if there is no ruck then there can't be off-sides so we had to manage that in a sense. We didn't secure our own ball at ruck time in the first half and that really cost us.
"Jaco wasn't happy with all the chat he got from the players ... I just asked them to calm down, leave the referee alone and worry about their own job."
SANZAAR are expected to name the referee for Saturday's final between the Lions and the Crusaders at Ellis Park early in the week.
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