British and Irish Lions winger Anthony Watson has revealed that he has accepted an apology from Sonny Bill Williams after the Kiwi’s horrendous shoulder-charge into his head.
The most physical inside-centre in world rugby, the 6-foot-4, 17 stone star was sent off in last week’s thrilling second Test which saw the Lions earn a famous 24-21 win in Wellington.
As Bath winger Watson was held by Waisake Naholo, Williams smashed into the side of his head with his shoulder, using no-arms, in an awful incident which could have seriously injured the 23-year-old.
As a result French referee Jerome Garces made the right call to send off the 31-year-old Williams, as the Auckland Blues man became the first All Black to be sent off since 1967.
It was the first time in his career that Williams had been sent off and following a disciplinary hearing, he was handed a four-week ban.
As a result, the All Blacks were forced into a reshuffle with flanker Jerome Kaino taken off and replaced by centre Ngani Laumape. Having to play for 55 minutes with only 14 men, Williams sending-off undoubtedly had a big impact on the final result.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Watson confirmed that Williams had gotten in touch with him to apologise for his actions and that he accepted that there was no intention by the New Zealander to hurt him.
“He messaged me on Twitter to say there was no intention and I don’t doubt that. I don’t think he’s a malicious player so I don’t think he intentionally led with his shoulder to hurt me or anything like that. It’s just unfortunate, I guess”.
Watson has enjoyed a fine tour, with his pace and quick feet causing the All Blacks some problems, whilst he has also looked solid in defence. He has also dovetailed well with Elliott Daly and Liam Williams in a dangerous back three which has looked the part.
Williams hit on Watson wasn’t the only controversial incident.
Lions prop Mako Vunipola was yellow-carded for two hits on Beauden Barrett. The first being a late hit on the New Zealand 10, before the Saracens front-rower dangerously cleaned him out on the floor minutes later.
Another controversial incident saw Irish flanker Sean O’Brien cited after the match for allegedly striking All Blacks winger Waisake Noholo at a ruck in the second half with Naholo having to leave the field of play and being unable to return. A disciplinary hearing subsequently found the Irishman innocent of dangerous play.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen later questioned the delay in explaining why O’Brien had been cleared and also suggested that Vunipola had been lucky not to receive a red card.
Discipline will be key this weekend as the Lions seek to reduce a penalty count which saw them concede 13 penalties last weekend, four less than their hosts.
The same indiscipline will surely cost them dear this weekend.
Hefan Jones, Pundit Arena
Check out this week’s episode of The Oval Office where we preview the third and final Test between the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks.