Super Rugby Aotearoa: Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan 'no issues' with controversial lack of red cards in final loss to Crusaders

Chiefs fans across the country will be awaking with a slightly bitter taste in their mouths, in the wake of Saturday's defeat to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

Plenty of them will also be carrying a sizeable chip on their shoulders at the performance of the referees, as they ponder two contentious yellow card decisions that - on any other day - may well have been red.

Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor was sinbinned for taking Damian McKenzie out in the air, as the fullback lept to reel in a high ball and was joined in the naughty corner just a matter of minutes later, when Sevu Reece was sent marching for a high tackle that seemed to involve a shoulder directly to Chase Tiatia's head.

But as far as Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is concerned, not only were referee Ben O'Keeffe and his crew on the mark with those calls, he also believes they had an exceptional day at the office.

"It's fairly subjective," McMillan admits. "When you're sitting in my seat, you think everything's a red.

"But when you actually have a decent look, I think they probably made the right decisions.

"I thought the referees controlled the game really well tonight. They were pretty brave in some of their decisions, they were accurate. 

"I've got no issues with the way that the game was officiated."

McMillan does suggest that if McKenzie hadn't immediately bounced back to his feet from his awkward fall and continued to run the ball, Taylor may not have been so lucky.

"The one with Codie Taylor looked nasty but I almost thought [McKenzie] should've taken one for the team there and landed on his head and it would've been a different story," McMillan says with a smirk.

Late in the first half, wing Jonah Lowe was also collected in a high tackle on his way to the try line by fullback Will Jordan in the kind of incident that has seen penalty tries awarded this season.

But again, McMillan - with the benefit of hindsight - dismissed suggestions his team were robbed of what would have been a critical five-pointer.

"We probably questioned whether that was a penalty try, but I don't think he controlled the ball anyway, so it's a little irrelevant," McMillan notes.

"I'm not sure that the head-high tackle really had an influence on him not getting the try down, so they probably made the right decision there too."

The Chiefs had their share of chances to swing the contest in their favour, with McMillan highlighting the period where the Crusaders were reduced to 13-men in the final quarter of match, ruing his team's inability to make their advantage count.

"That was certainly the critical period," he says. 

"We got a bit flustered, I think. We probably overplayed and didn't nail our set piece and just allowed the Crusaders to get their game going.

Clayton McMillan.
Clayton McMillan. Photo credit: Photosport

"We're really disappointed in the result because we felt like we had our chances there, just not quite good enough to apply the blowtorch when we had those opportunities. We had the opportunities but we just didn't cash in on them.

"You've got to give credit to the Crusaders. They've been there, they've done that and they always win those big moments when it really matters."

Nevertheless, finishing a season during which they'd almost made history for all the wrong reasons - narrowly avoiding the record for most consecutive Super Rugby defeats - in the tournament's showpiece leaves plenty to be proud of, and McMillan believes the sky is the limit for his young squad.

"Our ceiling is really high and we're nowhere near it at the moment," he says. "But we've worked bloody hard. We're a tight group. 

"We've got to take it on the chin and learn from this experience and keep growing. I think it's important to acknowledge that we've come a long way.

"This is a talented group. I've been consistent in saying that the world could be our oyster and its moments like this that, although it hurts, if you learn and grow with it then we're going to become a real force to be reckoned with. Hopefully in the coming months, but certainly, in the coming years.

"We've raised a few eyebrows and people are starting to take notice now

"There are disappointed guys in [the locker room], but we'll celebrate tonight."