From Behind the Whistle: All Blacks v Lions 2nd Test Three Key Decisions

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All Blacks v Lions 2nd Test Three Key Decisions
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 01: Sonny Bill Williams of the All Blacks is shown a red card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium on July 1, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Second Test between the All Blacks v Lions was a ‘spicy affair’. Full of flashpoints and many talking points. Three key decisions of World Rugby referee Jérôme Garcès provided the bulk of the latter; the first-half red card to All Black Sonny Bill Williams, the yellow card to Lion Mako Vunipola, and the controversial final penalty.

Last Word on Rugby resident referee Scott MacLean takes a look from behind the whistle, to breakdown the situation, the judgement and outcome.

Williams Red Card

Garcès got this 100% correct. Under the guidelines issued by World Rugby at the start of the year, direct contact with the head (with force) should result in a Red Card. An argument could be made that Anthony Watson was falling in the tackle, or that Waisake Naholo affected Williams’ ability to wrap his arm.

On the first point it’s a mitigating factor, but I believe that Williams had chosen to lead with the shoulder and at that point, all bets are off. Once he made contact with Watson’s head, his fate was sealed. [Williams will now face the Judiciary Sunday night.]

There is one comparable incident on the tour already; Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s yellow card in the Maori All Black game in Rotorua. In that instance he slid in, leading with the shoulder on an opponent who was also falling. The referee that night–Jaco Peyper–put a lot of emphasis on the position of the Lions player in only deciding to issue a yellow card. But with external viewing, it could just have easily, and perhaps should have, been Red.

Vunipola Yellow Card

The more I look at this, the more I’m convinced that the Lions prop should have seen red as well. While he was probably aggrieved by the decision to penalize him for his late contact on Beauden Barrett (when a similar incident by Codie Taylor on Owen Farrell, earlier went unpunished).

There was no excuse for going off his feet and leading with a forearm to the face of a player who is on the ground. Barrett was defenseless, and not taking any part in the game at that moment.

Mako Vunipola of the Lions leaves the pitch after being shown the yellow card by Referee Jerome Garces of France during the second test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at the Westpac Stadium on July 1, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Despite the claims of Warren Gatland immediately post-match, it was not a ‘clean out’. This is the sort of thing that needs to be addressed and stamped out. Whether it is a test match, or a club game. World Rugby must act accordingly, to improve the games record. The All Blacks v Lions test can be an instrument for change.

TMO Interaction and Citing Commission Reaction

It was also of note, for the interactions between Garcès and TMO (television match official) George Ayoub. While by this stage in the match, Garcès was clearly flustered. It appeared to me that having initially had second-thoughts about the red card to Williams, Ayoub felt that this warranted the same judgement–given that it also involved direct contact, with the head.

Another incident has attracted the Citing Commissioners attention, post match. One that later that saw Naholo forced from the field. The All Black underwent a Head Injury Assessment, which he failed. The implication, that it resulted from a swinging arm by Lions player Sean O’Brien. [O’Brien has now been cited, and will face the Judiciary Sunday].

And (arguably) Vunipola’s yellow card may have saved his teammate Maro Itoje from receiving one. The lock treading a fine line with the number of infringements he committed. And while some might point out a number of key moments, the above signify flashpoints in the second test.

The Last-Gasp Penalty

The moment that ultimately saw the British and Irish Lions take their winning lead, was no less controversial than the two above. Kyle Sinckler jumps to take a poor high pass from Conor Murray. While in the air, he is tackled by All Black opposite Charlie Faumuina.

While Garcès’ decision to penalize is technically correct under Law (10.4(i)), the argument is that ‘it is seldom (if ever) called in that situation’. Typically it is used more in the lineout, or as we’ve seen determined by World Rugby dictate since 2016, in contests for the ball following a high kick.

The interpretation and in turn, it’s use in judging penalties, has led to a degree of confusion – typified by Kieran Read’s immediate reaction. Something that World Rugby needs to clarify fairly rapidly. If it is considered correct, then more questions remain. How will they address players starting to jump into every tackle, to draw penalties?

All Blacks v Lions Second Test Outcome

Once converted, the scoreline read 21-24 and these flashpoints and many talking points will continue through the week. Sonny Bill Williams and Sean O’Brien will face the Judiciary in Wellington on Sunday July 2. Each players punishment will be known by Monday morning. Most certainly for Williams, a period that will see him not involved further in this series.

All three key decisions did impact on the second test outcome. The 46 players involved, as much as the officials, all played their part too. It has been an exceptionally intense DHL Lions Series, which will now reach a climax at Eden Park, on Saturday July 8.

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