Super Rugby Aotearoa: Chiefs star Anton Lienert-Brown fumes over TMO controversy in loss to Blues

Frustration is starting to boil over for the winless Chiefs after another questionable decision went against them, this time against the Blues at Eden Park on Sunday afternoon. 

In the final minute of the game and trailing by four points, Chiefs No. 8 Pita Gus Sowakula charged over the line and his teammates were adamant he grounded the ball, but referee Brendon Pickerill saw things differently and awarded a penalty to the Blues. 

The Blues went on to win the match 21-17 to keep their Super Rugby Aotearoa title hopes alive, while the Chiefs slumped to their seventh straight defeat - their sixth loss in the revamped post-coronavirus competition.

After the final whistle, senior Chiefs players, most notably Anton Lienert-Brown, were blowing up at Pickerill for failing to go upstairs for a TMO ruling at the death.

The call comes a week after NZ referees boss Bryce Lawrence admitted the decision to controversially disallow Damian McKenzie's try in the Highlanders' stunning comeback win over the Chiefs was incorrect.

"In big moments, we've got the TMO for a reason," a furious Lienert-Brown told NZME. 

"We've been on the wrong side of a lot of calls this whole year and when it counted, when we needed it, why not go upstairs? I was a little bit frustrated. In a massive moment, I think we've got to use the TMO."

Chiefs coach Warren Gatland has criticised referees countless times this season, but he opted to take a more diplomatic approach this time. 

There were mixed emotions in the coaches' box after the call, as cameras caught one assistant throwing his pen, which hit the window.

Sam Cane argues with referee Brendon Pickerill.
Sam Cane argues with referee Brendon Pickerill. Photo credit: Photosport

"The referee was very confident he'd made the right call so there's no point in us dwelling on that we've got to accept those decisions at the moment," Gatland said. "We're disappointed but I was proud of the effort.

"I've made some comments in the past about us being a bit unlucky and then I've been accused of being a whinger so I promise you I'm not going to whinge about that, I've just got to take that on the chin and start thinking about the Crusaders next week.

"When you've been around coaching a long time it's not the first time you've been in a situation where you've dropped a few games. It's how you respond to that. 

"We're training well and preparing well. For me, it's about embracing the challenge and making sure I question myself each week about 'are we doing the right things'?"

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said he "didn't see it" when asked if he thought Sowakula had scored. 

Victory leaves the Blues two competition points behind the Crusaders, who have a game in hand, but they meet in the season finale on August 16.

Before then, the northerners travel to Dunedin for the Highlanders next week, before their second bye.

Join us next weekend for live updates of Super Rugby Aotearoa