Payne of this defeat set to linger for Ulster
Ulster paid a bigger price than they should have for something that was clearly an accident
Referee Jerome Garces shows Jared Payne a red card after just four minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens at Ravenhill. Photo: Darren Kidd/Inpho
I was coming out of the back of the stand at Ravenhill after the match on Saturday when I ran into Jerome Garces, the referee who had made such a difference to the game by sending off Jared Payne after four minutes. I wouldn’t known him well but I’ve met him at a few matches over the years and I’d always say hello to him.
There was a really sombre atmosphere around the place by that stage. It was such a contrast to what had gone before. All day the buzz had built up around Ravenhill. With all the building work that has gone on, this felt like a new era for the place.
The fans gathered from early afternoon and the place was humming by the time the game started. Even when it was on, even after the Payne red card, the supporters did everything they could to lift their team. When they finally fell short and the fans started drifting away afterwards, it was all very subdued.
You could see that Garces was uncomfortable. He knew he had had an effect on the game and there was no doubt that most Ulster people held him responsible for the defeat. He had spent the whole game after the red card getting booed so he couldn’t escape it. He had the face of someone who was after making a big decision and he seemed at odds with himself.
I had a lot of sympathy for him. On a basic human level, it didn’t matter whether he made the right or wrong call. What mattered, if you were Jerome Garces, was that the game had turned on a huge call he made really early in the game. You wouldn’t wish that on any referee.
And actually, if you take the emotion out of it, you’d have to respect the fact that he made the hardest decision of all. A yellow card would obviously have been the easy way out. Saracens wouldn’t have had any problem with it, Ulster wouldn’t have had any problem with it, the game would have been anyone’s from there on out. But Garces took the harder road and no matter if you think he was correct or not to do so, there’s something to admire in that. You wouldn’t fancy having to make that call.
I met Alex Goode as well. He was a bit groggy and he had no real recollection of the incident. He still had a headache, a couple of hours after it had happened. His shoulder and neck were sore. He told me that he had wanted to play on but the Saracens medical people had to hold him down on the ground while he was saying this, so he was obviously out of it.
It was a huge impact he’d taken. So it was good to see that he was up and about and on his feet. It’s less than a fortnight since there was a serious neck injury in rugby league – the Australian player Alex McKinnon broke his neck in a tackle and has spinal damage that could prevent him ever walking again – so it’s easy to see how these things can go badly wrong. Goode was in fine form, which was the most important thing. Far more important than whether a referee got his decision right or not.
I didn’t get into the rights and wrongs of it with Garces. It wouldn’t be fair on him – he certainly didn’t have to justify himself to me. But he said it was a shame that a decision like that had to be made. Having such a big impact on the game clearly didn’t sit well with him.