The Runner Sports

Lions Top All Blacks Amid Three Controversial Calls

The test match between the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks was a hard-fought game. The match also included many questionable incidents. The three biggest moments were the Sonny Bill Williams red card, the Mako Vunipola yellow, and Sean O’Brien’s hit. All three of these incidents have been much maligned throughout the rugby world.

Sonny Bill Williams

Williams has had a great series against the Lions both as an All Black and for the Blues. He is one of the most revered players in international rugby. The incident in question involves his hit against Anthony Watson in the 25th minute.

The moment saw Sonny Bill Williams lead in with the shoulder and no attempt to wrap. While this would normally result in a yellow card, his shoulder made direct contact with Watson’s head resulting in a red card. The incident was unfortunate, but the result was justifiable. Williams’ hit was reckless and dangerous to a very high degree. Upon review of the card, Williams was handed a four-week suspension for the hit. This will remove him from the final test match between the Lions and All Blacks.

The red card is a huge moment for the All Blacks, since it is their first red card in 50 years. The last red card was against Colin ‘Pine-Tree’ Meads in 1967. With the exit of SBW from the squad, the All Blacks will bring in Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders to fill the vacancy.

There has been a great deal of discussion of the future of Williams following the red. Many people are concerned that this may effectively end Williams’ international career for the All Blacks. The All Blacks have a strong tradition of dealing very harshly with cards. Only time will tell how the All Blacks will deal with Williams going forward.

Mako Vunipola

Mako Vunipola played a very tough match, fighting very hard throughout the entire match. His incident occurred in the 56th minute when making a dangerous clear against Beauden Barrett.

Much of this controversy came from what appeared to be strong similarities between the Vunipola hit and Williams’ hit earlier in the match. Complaints have been made by All Blacks fans that Vunipola’s hit was exactly the same, but the French referee was partial to his North Hemisphere brethren. The biggest difference to be shown is that Vunipola never actually made contact with Barrett above the shoulders. This was the deciding factor the turned Williams’ card red. Although more by luck than design, Vunipola came very close, but never actually made contact with Barrett above the shoulder.

The reason for the yellow was Mako not using arms in his clean out, and the question of whether a ruck had been formed or not. The differences between the cards are subtle but distinct. Although Vunipola was mere inches away from contact with Barrett’s head, he never actually made contact, and that made all the difference.

Sean O’Brien

The final major controversy of the match occurred only three minutes later, when Waisake Naholo received a whack over the head. Elliot Daly came in for the initial tackle, then Sean O’Brien came over the top to finish it. It appeared that O’Brien’s forearm made contact with Naholo’s head in the tackle. The major controversy was that Jerome Garces did not consult the TMO concerning the hit at all.

It is difficult to say the affect his arm had on Naholo as it appears that the contact was not very severe. The tackle at some point was severe enough for Naholo to be knocked out and removed from the field.

Garces was caught in the modern unwinnable situation. People complain continuously that too much time is wasted on taking everything to the TMO. Then if you don’t take something to the TMO that they are concerned about then you are a bad referee. There is no winning in the scenario. Garces’ decision was vindicated today as O’Brien was cited and the reviewing committee found a lack of wrong doing on O’Brien’s part. His tackle was legal.

The Result and looking forward.

Many people blame Sonny Bill Williams for the All Blacks loss.  This is unfair as the All Blacks’ play improved greatly in the 30 minutes after he left the field. When SBW left the field the score was tied 3-3, but by the 56th minute, when Vunipola received his yellow card, they were up 15-9. Beauden Barrett had endless opportunities to put the All Blacks ahead but missed many of them. Loss for a team as dominant as New Zealand is very difficult to accept. In this scenario, luck was simply not partial to the All Blacks this time. The match was memorable, but now, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.

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David Bradham

Active duty Navy, have a true passion for Rugby.
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