Sonny Bill cops four weeks

by AFP

A remorseful All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams was suspended for four weeks on Sunday for a dangerous tackle in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions.

The suspension rules him out of the series decider in Auckland.

"Just finished my hearing, ended up getting four weeks. Obviously really disappointed, but happy with being able to get in there and say my piece," Williams said after nearly three hours in front of a judicial disciplinary panel.

The double World Cup winning centre was red-carded 25 minutes into the Test after a shoulder charge to the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson. 

He did not contest the charge when he appeared before an all-Australian judicial panel at the New Zealand Rugby offices on Sunday evening.

"They've come to the conclusion that it was reckless, that it wasn't intentional. I've got in contact with Anthony and I've apologised to him." - Sonny Bill Williams.

"But I'm very disappointed that I was sent from the field last night and that I let my brothers down."

Lions flanker Sean O'Brien was also to appear before the panel after being cited for a swinging arm hit on All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo but was cleared.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirmed before the hearing that Williams would plead guilty.

"There's a (judicial) process, we trust the process. Sonny's paid a big price. The team's paid a big price for him making a mistake," Hansen said.
"He's disappointed. Not for himself, he accepts he's made a mistake, but he's disappointed because he's let the team down."

The All Blacks have already called Otago Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa into the squad as Williams' replacement with senior midfielder Ryan Crotty already sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in the first Test.

Although the All Blacks were forced to play with 14 men for 55 minutes after Williams was sent from the field, the Lions did not hit the lead until three minutes from fulltime when Owen Farrell landed the match-winning penalty for a 24-21 victory.

The All Blacks won the first Test 30-15.

Williams  is the third All Black to be sent off following Cyril Brownlie in 1925 and Colin Meads in 1967.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Saturday said there would be no "whining" from the New Zealanders over the red card that proved pivotal in his side's dramatic loss to the Lions.

Hansen said he was proud of the way his team "gutsed it out" despite the disadvantage, and held off the Lions until the final minutes.

But he said the courageous performance by 14 men did not ease the pain of defeat, which levels the series at 1-1 and sets up a decider in Auckland next week.

"Losing sucks whether you've got 15, 25 or two. It sucks," he said.

"But tonight is our turn to take it on the chin. It's all very well being gracious winners but we've got to accept that we got beaten by a team that played better than us.

Hansen refused to criticise referee Jerome Garces.

He said he accepted Garces' decision to send Williams off for a shoulder charge, although he argued "it could have been a yellow or a red".

"There's no point whining about it," he said.

"Sonny didn't use his arms so he put himself at risk and unfortunately collected young Anthony's head. You don't want that and the referee deemed it a red card."


Did @sonnybillwilliams deserve to see red? #NZLvBIL

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You just have to cop it

Captain Kieran Read also said he could not fault the red card, only the third ever given to a New Zealand international and the first handed to an All Black in a home Test.
"I didn't have a great look (at the incident) but that's how it is these days," he said. "If it's to the head you just have to cop it don't you?"

Hansen said he did not believe Williams intended to hurt Watson, saying the player committed a spur-of-the-moment action in the midst of an intense Test match.

"Things happen in the heat of the moment and players end up getting on the wrong side of the law," he said.

He said the Lions had a similar problem when Mako Vunipola was sin-binned after two dangerous tackles on Beauden Barrett.

The All Blacks coach was also philosophical about the late penalty that Charlie Faumuina conceded for tackling Kyle Sinckler in the air, which allowed Owen Farrel to kick the winning points.

"It's tough but the law's the law," the former policeman said.
"A guy like Charlie's about to make his tackle, he's big boy about 130kg he hasn't got the ability to stop half way through."

He said he was excited about the Auckland showdown, which will see the Lions attempt to win their first series in New Zealand since 1971.

"We have to go away now and prepare better work harder and come tout to try and win the series next week."