Match review – SBW, Mako and flying All Blacks

If sport is entertainment, then few people can have any complaints about the 2nd test between the Lions and New Zealand. The game had plenty of controversy, a fair dose of late drama and a couple of decent tries thrown in for good measure.

After the game the Twittersphere was alive with chat about 2 incidents in particular. Here’s our view on them.

Sonny Bill Williams shoulder charge

This is an easy one to assess. Here is the footage:

It seems as if the disciplinary panel deemed the offence reckless, rather than intentional, which is very hard to justify based on the video footage and Williams’ track record.

Williams’ right arm makes no attempt at all to wrap around Watson, and he lines up his prone head from some distance out. The force of 17 stone running at pace, channelled through a shoulder to the face, jolts Watson’s head back in a manner that he was lucky not to suffer serious injury.

Garces was right to issue a red card – against the advice of Jaco Peyper, who seems to have not been on the e-mail circulation list for the World Rugby’s crackdown on head injuries.

Earlier in the week, we mentioned the importance of having a northern hemisphere referee for this game, and this is exactly the reason why. If Peyper had been the man with the whistle, SBW would have likely received a yellow card and the Lions would likely be 2-0 down in the series, with a final dead rubber to play on Saturday. It’s another reminder of the huge influence a referee has in rugby.

Williams supposedly “showed remorse” in the hearing, which helped to reduce the length of the ban, but we know he has a history of these sorts of tackles so what was he sorry for? Certainly not the action, perhaps he was sorry he was caught?

Here are a couple of examples of his back catalogue of similar shoulder hits:

Mako’s ruck clear out

This wasn’t Mako Vunipola’s greatest game; he struggled at the scrum and then seemed to have a period of red mist where he incurred the wrath of Garces on a couple of occasions.

With 52 minutes played, he clattered late in to Barrett following a kick, and after a TMO review, a penalty was given against him. Perhaps that penalty riled him because just 2 minutes later he cleared out the same All Black at a ruck and was given a yellow card. This is the offence:

There are two interesting aspects to this offence and the resulting punishment.

Firstly, a number of people wanted to draw parallels between the incident and the Sonny Bill Williams red card, to claim that Vunipola should also have been issued with a red card for contact with Barrett’s head.

This doesn’t hold true because the SBW offence is a clear shoulder to the face, with the full momentum being focused through the shoulder with the aim to hurt the opposition.

Vunipola also fails to wrap his right arm, but as we can see if we look frame by frame, his shoulder initially makes contact with Barrett’s upper chest or shoulder area. There is no evidence that the shoulder drives straight in to Barrett’s head. As both players fall to the ground the right arm does come across Barrett’s head but with very little force.

Taken on it’s own, with contact to Barrett’s shoulders and no attempt to wrap the right arm, a yellow card is warranted.

Here’s the “but” though, which raises the second issue…… If we listen to Garces’ discussion with Vunipola and Warburton, Garces says the following as justification for the card, “The ball is here [points to an area behind him], you clean out….[points to an area further away].

The insinuation is that the card was given for clearing out a player away from the breakdown. It wasn’t given for contact with the head.


Diving All Blacks

As soon as Vunipola cleared out Barrett we tweeted:

It was good to finally see a Lions’ player adopt the style of rucking we often see in the southern hemisphere, and one that has been common from the All Blacks in the 2 tests.

In both hemispheres, referees allow players to go off their feet at the ruck after they have bound on to the opposition. It may be against the laws, but custom has dictated that it is permitted which is why we always end up with a pile of bodies at every ruck.

The difference with the southern hemisphere interpretation, is that players are often allowed to come off their feet and dive at the opposition, before they have made contact at the ruck. As long as the clear out results in fast, attacking ball referees in the south tend to mostly ignore it.

This was the reason why it was a surprise that Garces pinged Vunipola for his clear out; we have seen dozens like it from New Zealand teams over the last few weeks. So if clearing a player out while off their feet, away from the ball is an offence we should see this applied more consistently, particularly with southern hemisphere teams.

To show how common these incidents are, here is an example, also taken from the 2nd test:

When this was tweeted a number of people commented that we can’t compare Cane’s action to Vunipola’s because Vunipola made contact with the head, but we need to remember that Garces didn’t penalise the head contact, he gave the offence as clearing out away from the ball. That is why we can make the comparison between the two.

Murray has made the tackle, the ball is available and he is moving away from the contact area. Cane makes no attempt to wrap his right arm but dives off his feet to strike Murray in the rib area.

This example is from the 1st test. It’s Cane again, who comes late to a ruck where the ball is clearly available and dives forward, putting his elbow in Jon Davies’ face as he does so.

The final example is taken from the lead up to the first try in the first test. Moody (wearing 1 for NZ), comes up to the tackle area where Liam Williams is starting to move in to position to attack the ball on the ground. He sees Moody diving off his feet and jumps back, away from contact.

There is an argument to say that Williams should have been a bit stronger at the tackle area and put his head where it hurt, but we shouldn’t need to ask players to risk their heads when 18 stone of All Black is flying towards them. We just need the current laws enforced.

Williams and Murray raised their arms to try and draw Peyper’s attention to the incident but he seemed to signal “be quiet” by placing his finger by his lips. From the next ruck the Lions concede a penalty and from a quick tap a try is scored.

These aren’t isolated incidents though, they are just symptomatic of the difference in approaches and refereeing interpretations between the north and the south. Keep your eye on this type of clear out in the final test.


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