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Red card costs Ulster £400,000 - but Ferris doesn't blame Heineken Cup ref

By Niall Crozier

French rugby ref Jerome Garces' controversial red-carding of Ulster star Jared Payne after just four minutes of Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final may have spelt up to a £400,000 loss for the Ravenhill coffers.

A battling 14-man performance by a side further hit by injuries to key players over the remaining 76 minutes just came up short as rivals Saracens scraped home 17-15 at the new Ravenhill.

The disappointment of the Ulster team and 18,000 home fans was heightened by the belief they could and should have won had New Zealander Payne stayed on the field, as TV replays seemed to suggest his penalised challenge on Sarries' Alex Goode was not a sending-off offence.

It also means Ulster missing out on a financial bonanza from a semi-final and possible final appearance.

With a minimum of 125,000 euro (£103,000) banked from Saturday's quarter-final, an Aviva semi-final against Clermont would have brought in at least double that with the final generating at least the same again, distributed through the governing IRFU.

Backing for Payne remains resolute against the backdrop of what might have been. Rugby's rule book deems a tackle on an airborne player as dangerous play, the offence for which Payne was dismissed. But TV replays show more of an accidental collision with Payne's eyes always following the flight of the ball.

Stephen Ferris summed up the magnanimous mood in a dejected Ulster camp by refusing to condemn ref Garces. "Red was very harsh," Ferris said, but added: "It's not the referee's fault, it's not Jared's fault, it's just a decision that swung the game in their favour."

 

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