Lions coach Graham Rowntree hailed flanker Sean O’Brien as outstanding last night after the Leinster and Ireland openside was cleared of dangerous play in the second Test.
The British & Irish Lions received a significant boost to their hopes of a series victory over the All Blacks when O’Brien’s citing for dangerous play in Saturday’s second Test was dismissed at an independent judicial hearing yesterday.
O’Brien, one of the Lions’ outstanding players on the 2017 tour to New Zealand, received the good news from an all-Australian judicial panel including former Munster forward John Langford following a marathon three-and-a-half hour hearing in Wellington.
The back-rower had been cited under law 10.4 (a) for allegedly striking New Zealand wing Waisake Naholo with a swinging arm in the 59th minute.
Australian citing commissioner Scott Nowland said the incident was deemed to have met the threshold for a red card even though the TMO, another Australian, George Ayoub, had not considered O’Brien’s actions required further action.
Their compatriots Langford, Adam Casselden, and David Croft dismissed Nowland’s complaint.
Scrum coach Rowntree has been delighted with O’Brien’s contribution to the Lions cause, calling him “outstanding”.
“He’s the barometer of our energy and aggression in the game. His ball pressure, his tackling, his carrying. I think he’s been outstanding.”
O’Brien issued a statement shortly after the verdict was made known and he said: “Firstly, I hope Waisake is okay. I’d 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.”
O’Brien had been supported at the hearing by Lions head coach Gatland, who said: “We’d 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.”
O’Brien’s decision came several hours after All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams had been given a four-week suspension by the same judicial panel in Wellington.
Williams had been issued with a red card by referee Jerome Garces in the 24th minute of the first half of the second Test for dangerous charging, his shoulder connecting with Lions wing Anthony Watson’s face.
The hearing’s detailed review of the incident, which included all video footage and additional evidence from the player and submissions from his legal representative, led the judicial committee to uphold the red card issued by referee Garces.
Williams’ offence was deemed to be reckless and warranted a mid-range entry level, carrying a six-week suspension but mitigating factors including his early admission, disciplinary record, good character, and remorse, saw the suspension reduced from six weeks to four.
“Look, he’s disappointed, not for himself, he accepts he’s made a mistake,” All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said ahead of the judicial hearing.
“He’s disappointed because he let the team down. One of our biggest mantras is the team comes first and he knows he’s 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’s paid a big price and the team’s 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.”
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