The Sunwolves’ 2018 Super Rugby season came to a close in controversy Friday as they lost 48-27 to the Reds at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
For the second week running against Australian opposition, the Sunwolves (3-13) had a player sent from the field just before the break, allowing their opponents to run away with the game.
A week after Semisi Masirewa was shown red for a tackle that many thought only deserved a yellow card at best, Ed Quirk booked himself an appointment with the judiciary.
The former Reds flanker was sent off in the 37th minute for apparently punching Hamish Stewart at the bottom of a ruck, though most observers felt it was anything but deliberate contact.
The sense that the Sunwolves were hard done by intensified shortly after the break when Reds flanker Caleb Timu was only shown a yellow for connecting with the head of Sunwolves flyhalf Hayden Parker with force while the Sunwolves pivot was on the ground.
“Rules are rules but I thought we were a bit unlucky with the cards,” said a diplomatic Sunwolves captain Willie Britz after the game.
His Reds counterpart Scott Higginbotham went a little further.
“It was disappointing to get (the win) that way. It would have been a great contest if they had had all 15 on the field. It was an unfortunate card for Quirky,” said the No. 8.
With both sides looking to end their year in style the Reds (6-10) got on the board first when Liam Wright crossed in the fourth minute after a handling error by Britz had given the hosts an ideal field position to launch an attack.
Two penalties from Parker in the 13th and 15th minutes closed the gap as the Sunwolves started putting some phases together and testing the Reds’ defense.
The game swung back the hosts’ way when the Reds forwards kept the ball for a number of phases and created space for Eto Nabuli to cross in the 22nd minute to make it 14-6.
But a penalty try — which also saw Duncan Paia’aua yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on — saw the Sunwolves close to within a point just a few minutes later.
Despite being a man down, it was the Reds who benefited most.
Jono Lance banged over a penalty and then split the Sunwolves midfield defense to score a try before the game turned.
Quirk was sent off on the recommendation of the video referee and Taniela Tupou crossed just before the break to make it 29-13 at halftime.
The Reds made sure there was no way back for the visitors as Noli, Paia’aua and Moses Sorovi all crossed before the Sunwolves gave their fans something to cheer about.
Ryota Nakamura and Jaba Bregvadze both touched down to give everyone a hint of what might have been if both sides had played a full complement.
“Credit to our boys, we gave it our all in the second half,” Britz said.