Toulon defeated Leinster 25-20 in the second semi-final of the European Champions Cup last weekend, but they only achieved victory in extra time, and were forced to play 10 minutes of the added period with only 14 men as former All Black, Ali Williams, was yellow carded for his challenge in the air on Devin Toner.
As part of the Toulon chasing contingent from the kick off, Williams’ efforts to catch the ball were not aided by teammates hoisting him skyward, and as such he inevitably did not rise as high as the Leinster man.
The subsequent collision appeared fairly incidental, but Toner did fall from height onto his side, appearing to immediately be in some discomfort. The reaction from the Leinster supporters and players was the expected synchronicity of protest against the Kiwi’s actions.
Williams was quick to plead his innocence, and although subsequent replays do appear to confirm he only had eyes for the ball, referee Wayne Barnes was of the opinion that he had no realistic possibility of claiming possession against Toner, and produced a yellow card.
The former New Zealand international clearly disagreed with the decision, as did the Toulon supporters, and there is certainly an argument to be made for their frustration.
The annoyance doesn’t come so much from Barnes’ decision, but the inconsistency.
If the reason for the sanction is that Williams’ efforts were unrealistic and unnecessary, and in turn endangered the safety of a fellow player, that precedent must regulate across all foul play – especially when a 10 minute sin bin can have such an enormous impact on a game.
The restart from which he committed the offence came as a result of a successful Leinster penalty, a penalty that was awarded for Jocelino Suta’s strangehold on Richardt Strauss.
If the logic for the yellow card is that it was a reckless act endangering an opposition player, the question over whether Suta deserved a similar punishment, if not harsher, is one that requires an answer.
The result would have been Toulon playing the final portion of the match with only 13 men, and it’s impossible to say how that may have altered the outcome.
How do you think Williams’ and Suta’s situations should have been handled?
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