Tuesday 16 January 2018

O'Brien free to play in final Test after escaping ban

O’Brien: Arriving for yesterday’s hearing. Photo by Mark Tantrum/Sportsfile
O’Brien: Arriving for yesterday’s hearing. Photo by Mark Tantrum/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Sean O'Brien is free to play in Saturday's series decider in Auckland after his citing for foul play was thrown out.

The Irish flanker remained in Wellington to fight his case in front of a three-man disciplinary committee - which included former Munster second-row John Langford - after being accused of making contact with Waisake Naholo's head with his swinging arm. O'Brien rejected the charge and was accompanied to the hearing by Lions coach Warren Gatland, manager John Spencer and lawyer Max Duffy.

The news comes as a major boost to the tourists' chances after he gave a stirring performance in Saturday's 24-21 win.

Scrum coach Graham Rowntree praised the Tullow native, saying: "He's the barometer of our energy and aggression in the game. His ball pressure, tackling, carrying... he's been outstanding," he said.

New Zealand will be without centre Sonny Bill Williams for the final Test. He received a four-week ban after being shown a red card for a shoulder charge to Anthony Watson's head.

Williams took responsibility for the charge, earning himself a two-week reprieve on the initial six-week ban, but he will be a big loss to his team at Eden Park, with experienced centre Ryan Crotty also out with a hamstring injury.

New Zealand manager Steve Hansen yesterday recalled Malakai Fekitoa to his squad, but is likely to start Ngani Laumape alongside Anton Lienert-Brown in an inexperienced midfield.

"He's disappointed," Hansen said of Williams.

"Not for himself, he accepts he's made a mistake. He's disappointed because he let the team down. People make mistakes. It's a fluid, fast and physical game. Unfortunately he's made a mistake and we've got to move on.

"Sonny's paid a big price, the team's paid a big price and we have to wear the decision."

Hansen gave a positive update on Naholo, who was "seen to be knocked out by the match doctor", but passed the Head Injury Assessment after the game.

Irish Independent

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