Last Saturday’s Test match between the All Blacks and the Lions has certainly provided a heightened level of drama. Conditions were appalling in Wellington and the Lions came from behind to claim an epic, hard-fought victory to level the series 1-1.
Almost from the outset, referee Jerome Garces had a very challenging night. Here is a quick look at the most contentious moments from the match.
Obviously – as already discussed – the red card heard ’round the world tops this list.
It’s probably fair to say that opinions of Garces’s application here could depend on which team one favors. However, many fans, pundits, and even All Blacks coach Steve Hansen seem to think the correct call was made.
“There’s no point in whining about it. Sonny didn’t use his arms so he put himself at risk and unfortunately collected young Anthony’s head and put him at risk. So you don’t want that and the referee deemed it a red card.”
In this case, it appears the correct application was applied and the maximum sanction (red card) was upheld. Williams was also suspended for four weeks as a result.
Another controversial moment came in the 56th minute when Mako Vunipola was sin-binned for a dangerous clear out of Beauden Barrett. It was an incident somewhat similar to the one that saw Williams receive the red card as Vunipola drove his shoulder into Barrett’s head.
However, Garces deemed the offence to be worthy of a yellow card only. One could argue the need for consistency in this instance.
This came on the back of Vunipola clumsily crashing late into Barrett with the shoulder only moments earlier. The All Blacks received a penalty in that instance and were perhaps lucky to do so, seeing that Codie Taylor had previously gotten away with a late shot of his own on Owen Farrell.
Later, in the 59th minute of the match, Sean O’Brien knocked winger Waisake Naholo out of the match with what was announced to be a concussion. Closer inspection revealed that O’Brien had struck Naholo with his forearm. Garces allowed play to continue without review.
This was a big decision as O’Brien was cited post match, with the citing commissioner deeming O’Brien to have struck with a swinging arm that should’ve resulted in a red card. This could’ve changed the flow of the match with both teams having to finish with 14 men.
Since the match, O’Brien was cleared of any wrong-doing as the citing was dismissed, and he should be in line to take part in the third Test match.
Lastly, in the last five minutes of the match, Charlie Faumuina was pinged for tackling replacement prop Kyle Sinckler in the air. This is in congruence with Law 10.4 regarding dangerous tackling – “Dangerous tackling. A player must not tackle an opponent whose feet are off the ground.”
Sinckler had jumped to receive the pass from Murray and Faumuina was just a split-second too early. Kieran Read argued that he could then, in theory, jump into a tackle next time he gets the ball, to earn a penalty. Garces ignored that comment, and the crucial penalty stood.
This of course, was all that Owen Farrell needed to slot home the winning kick.
After the final whistle there were also some unpleasant exchanges, as Sinckler reportedly didn’t want to join in the traditional guard of honour. Footage of that is scarce but it was brought up in both team’s press conferences, with neither coach knowing anything about it.
Potential controversies aside, it was a thrilling match that hung in the balance until the very end. We now have a series decider in the All Blacks’ fortress, Eden Park, treating the fans to a great amount of excitement in the week’s buildup to the match.