Sport Lions Tour

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Comment: Forget about 'heroic' Lions - the real guts were shown by the man in the middle

New Zealand All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams (R) is shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces (L) beside captain Kieran Read during the second rugby union Test between the British and Irish Lions and the New Zealand All Blacks in Wellington on July 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Marty MELVILLEMARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images
New Zealand All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams (R) is shown the red card by referee Jerome Garces (L) beside captain Kieran Read during the second rugby union Test between the British and Irish Lions and the New Zealand All Blacks in Wellington on July 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Marty MELVILLEMARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

A stonewall red? Not if you were to take your lead from the officiating team's reaction - bar the head man - who collectively suffered a medical emergency known as simultaneous tongue swallowing.

Conor Murray had obviously taken lessons from his easily agitated half-back partner during the week because it was the scrum-half's energetic remonstrations that first tipped off the viewer that foul play had occurred just after the 20 minute mark.

The replay confirmed it - All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who made his name with bursting shoulder charges in rugby league, had significantly transgressed by applying the same technique in union.

His shoulder connected with the head of the helpless Anthony Watson as the Lions wing went to ground with the score balanced at 3-3. Sky commentator Stuart Barnes initially said yellow while the TMO was consulted, before realising that the near decapitation probably merited a stronger sanction.

The hope for the Lions entering the second test was that French referee Jerome Garces would be tougher on the All Blacks than the overly chummy first test official, South African Jaco Peyper, whose leniency knows no bounds.

Garces, who correctly issued a red card to Keith Earls for a tip tackle in the first game after Anthony Foley's death, which required immense courage given the emotional atmosphere, wasn't cowed by the wailing Wellingtonians who pleaded for Williams' clemency.

The Frenchman immediately peppered his TMO conversation with the word 'red', before turning to his two linesmen, Peyper and compatriot Romain Poite, to reiterate his view that Williams' shoulder charge warranted the strictest punishment.

The best way to highlight the guts shown by Garces to take the nuclear option of sending off an All Black for just the third time ever, and the first time in 50 years, is to measure the decibel level that emanated from the mouths of the touch judges.

The Wellington air was peepless.

They were there to do a job, but apparently assisting the referee in adjudicating on the biggest decision in a Lions test series since Luke Fitzgerald almost had his eye popped out of its socket by Schalke Burger in 2009 wasn't one of them.

The only offering, from Peyper, was to somewhat inaudibly give what sounded to be a mitigating reason as to why Williams should escape with a yellow.

Garces was having none of it, quickly cutting him off before turning on his heels to hand the All Black his punishment.

Over 55 minutes of rugby - 18 of which were pulsating - followed, and no doubt the Lions will be hailed as heroes for their match-winning comeback, but the guts shown by the match official is the most noteworthy moment from a test match littered with standout memories.

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