Sean O'Brien citing thrown out as Sonny Bill Williams gets four-week ban

Sean O'Brien says he is looking forward to rejoining the British and Irish Lions squad after a citing complaint against him was dismissed.

The Lions and Ireland flanker is free to play in next Saturday's Test series decider against New Zealand.

It comes as New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams got a four-week ban and so will miss next Saturday's Test.

Williams was given a 25th-minute red card by French referee Jerome Garces following a shoulder charge into Lions wing Anthony Watson's head at Westpac Stadium.

O'Brien was reported by match citing commissioner Scott Nowland for allegedly striking New Zealand wing Waisake Naholo with his arm during Saturday's second Test.

O'Brien denied he committed an offence during a lengthy three-man judicial hearing in Wellington on Sunday, with the citing complaint subsequently being thrown out.

In a response issued to the verdict by the Lions, O'Brien said: "Firstly, I hope Waisake is OK.

"I would like to thank the panel for carefully considering the case, and I am looking forward to rejoining the whole squad to prepare for the final Test."

And Lions head coach Warren Gatland added: "We would like to thank the panel for their professional and diligent approach.

"Sean is a tough but fair player, and we are pleased that the panel dismissed the citing."

The Lions, fresh from a 24-21 second Test victory over the All Blacks in Wellington, have now decamped to the Southern Alps' tourist hot-spot of Queenstown for a few days' rest and recuperation.

And the O'Brien news is a huge boost for the Lions as they target victory in Auckland next weekend, which would give them a first Test series triumph against New Zealand since 1971.

Uncompromising Leinster forward O'Brien impressed in the second Test win, and he is set to be a key part of Gatland's plans at Eden Park.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's hearing, Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree paid O'Brien a glowing compliment.

"Sean had an outstanding game carrying the ball for us on Saturday," Rowntree said.

"He's the barometer of our energy and aggression in the game; his ball pressure, his tackling, his carrying. He's been outstanding."

In a statement, New Zealand Rugby said: "British and Irish Lions player Sean O'Brien was cited by independent citing commissioner Scott Nowland under Law 10.4 (a) for striking All Blacks No. 14 in the second Test match played between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions on Saturday, 1 July 2017 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

"O'Brien denied he committed an offence under Law 10.4(a).

"Having conducted a detailed review of all the evidence available, including all video footage and additional evidence from the player and submissions from his legal representative Max Duthie, the independent judicial committee comprising Adam Casselden SC (chair), David Croft and John Langford dismissed the citing complaint."

Meanwhile, World Cup-winning centre Williams, who revealed he has apologised to Watson, was hit with a ban when he appeared before a three-man judicial panel in Wellington on Sunday.

The verdict, which was announced by the New Zealand Rugby Union, means the All Blacks are without one of their most influential players as they target a series-clinching victory in Auckland.

Ahead of Williams' hearing outcome, the All Blacks called up centre Malakai Fekitoa to their squad.

After the hearing, Williams gave his reaction, which was posted in a series of tweets published on the All Blacks' official Twitter account.

The 31-year-old said he was "really disappointed, but happy with being able to get in there and say my piece".

He added: "They've come to the conclusion that it was reckless, it wasn't intentional.

"I've got in contact with Anthony, and I've apologised to him."

And in a final tweet, Williams added: "...but very disappointed that I was sent from the field last night and let my brothers down."

Williams was the first All Blacks player for 50 years to be sent off in a Test match, only the third of all-time, and first in New Zealand.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said: "Look, he's disappointed, not for himself, he accepts he has made a mistake.

"He is disappointed because he let the team down. One of our biggest mantras is the team comes first, and he knows he has let the team down, but we can't go back and change it.

"People make mistakes. It's a fluid game, a fast game and a physical game. Unfortunately, he's made a mistake and we've got to move on from it.

"Sonny has paid a big price and the team has paid a big price for him making a mistake, and we have to wear the decision. That's just the way it goes. Let's move on and talk about how good a Test match it was."

The Lions' 24-21 victory consigned New Zealand to a first defeat on home soil since 2009, ending a 46-match unbeaten run, while the All Blacks have not lost successive Tests for six years.

"No-one likes losing, but going to bed and going to sleep doesn't change the result," Hansen added.

"We've got to go to Auckland and we've got to go to prepare for a Test match. Does it make next Saturday a little bit more exciting than if we had won last night? You bet it does. We've got a real challenge on our hands, so that is exciting.

"I thought we were almightily courageous. Did we play well? Debatable. I think we can play smarter, but we certainly showed a lot of ticker and a lot of heart.

"I am very proud of our guys. They hung in there against a quality side and had a chance of winning the game. They never gave up, and as a coach, that is all you can ask your players to do when you are in that sort of situation.

"The big thing about when you lose is that it's painful, isn't it? It sharpens the mind, it sharpens the attitude, and you look at things probably a little deeper than you normally do.

"We try to learn when we win, but in this case we had a side that beat us because on the day they were a little better than us. We have to acknowledge that and then go 'okay, how can we be better than them?' And we will do that through the week, do our best to stay 15 on 15 and then see if we can get some strategies going.

"Everyone will be excited next week. It will be great. Rugby has been needing something like this for a while. It's now get it, so everyone will be a bit nervy about that because it could go either way, and how exciting is that?"

New Zealand's next fixture after the Lions decider is a Rugby Championship clash against Australia on August 19.


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