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Saturday 18 November 2017

Tank clear to roll into Eden Park

Leinster prop McGrath must be favourite to start the third test

Sean O’Brien arrives at New Zealand Rugby Offices in Wellington for a judicial hearing where he was cleared after after being cited for dangerous play during the second Test of the Lions Series in Wellington. Pic: Sportsfile
Sean O’Brien arrives at New Zealand Rugby Offices in Wellington for a judicial hearing where he was cleared after after being cited for dangerous play during the second Test of the Lions Series in Wellington. Pic: Sportsfile

It was a tale of two citings as Sean O'Brien escaped sanction to be available to play for The British & Irish Lions in the third test four hours after Sonny Bill Williams had been hit with a four-week suspension for his red card.

The Irish flanker was cleared of the allegation of a deliberate swinging arm into the head of wing Waisake N aholo in Wellington.

The all-Australian three-man Independent Disciplinary Committee consisting of the Adam Casselden, David Croft and former Munster player John Langford found in favour of O'Brien.

They came to the conclusion that having "conducted a detailed review of all the evidence available, including all video footage and additional evidence from the Player and submissions from his legal representative" there was no clear and convincing reason to apply a sanction.

Relief

This must have come as a huge relief to Warren Gatland as O'Brien has been a force of nature in the first two tests.

In contrast, the All Black centre Williams pleaded guilty to dangerous charging which "was deemed to be reckless and warranted a mid-range entry level."

The six-week suspension was reduced to four based on Williams' "early admission, his disciplinary record, good character and remorse."

The All Blacks have called up centre Malakai Fekitoa, the man who administered that nasty high hit on Simon Zebo, which was worthy of a red card, at The Aviva last November.

First choice Ryan Crotty was put through his paces in Wellington in his bid to recover from a hamstring injury with Ngani Laumape and the uncapped Jack Goodhue in contention.

Jack McGrath has to feel more than hopeful that the rank indiscipline of Mako Vunipola will leave room for the Leinster loose-head to start the third test.

The near madness of the English international in giving away four penalties and insisting on late hits on defenceless players - well, Beauden Barrett - cost The Lions a yellow card and almost the match.

"We can't lose a Test series on the back of some stupid penalties," said Forwards coach Graham Rowntree.

"That would be unacceptable. How do you live with that for the rest of your life?

"We have got to sort it out because it is going to kill us. We have to sit them down and show them every day. We can't be doing this.

"It is all about what you do in the heat of the battle under fatigue. You can't be doing it. We have to keep reiterating that point to the players."

There was also the strange alteration of Vunipola's bind on Owen Franks to make a grab for the tight-head's private parts in the first test.

The evidence of Vunipola's vulnerability to the pressure cooker situation has revealed a suspect character. In addition, the super-charged impact of Kyle Sinckler was a blight on the game.

He took his high energy and turned it into another possible point of weakness.

There was more than one scrap, most notably with TJ Perenara at the final whistle.

It was made worse by unacceptable shenanigans at the post-match cool-down near the tunnel.

Quite simply, Sinckler is an explosion waiting to happen, perhaps a chance worth taking late on in the third test.

However, Dan Cole has been in fine form in New Zealand and The Lions would do worse than consider Cole for the replacements.

Rowntree would not rule out make changes to The Lions winning side, even though Conor Murray and Maro Itoje - both gave away two penalties - will not be dropped.

"If that is what it takes," he said. Gats has shown he is not afraid of doing things like that. But as I say, it is not as if it is the same offenders. We will be very frank and objective with the lads.

"The pictures are undeniable. That will be a big theme of the week."

The Lions will have to change or suffer the consequences.

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