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Sonny Bill cleared to face Australia as NZ win appeal claiming 'game of 3 halves' should count in ban

40 minutes against Counties Manukau and 40 minutes against Taranaki now counts as the fourth match in SBW’s suspension.

Image: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

NEW ZEALAND HAVE successfully appealed the length of the ban imposed on Sonny Bill Williams for his hit on Anthony Watson during the second Lions Test in July.

Williams was shown a straight red card for the shoulder-to-head contact and was handed a four-week ban – with one week equating to one match as long as World Rugby deemed that match meaningful and holding consequence for the player.

Initially, the ban imposed on Williams covered the third Lions Test, the Auckland Blues’ final Super Rugby fixture against the Sunwolves, a Mitre 10 Cup warm-up fixture for Counties Manukau and the first Rugby Championship fixture – Australia v New Zealand – on 19 August.

At the initial hearing, Williams’ defence attempted to claim two fixtures before 19 August as ‘meaningful’: Counties Manukau A v Counties Manukau B and also the 11 August “Game of Three Halves” warm-up fixture involving the All Blacks, Counties Manukau and Taranaki.

This three-part match – whereby the All Blacks will play Counties and Taranaki for 40 minutes each before the two provinces face each other for a third 40 – is the match New Zealand and Williams have successfully appealed to be deemed ‘meaningful’.

The decision announced today included reference to an email exchange between the judicial panel and Williams’ counsel Stephen Cottrell where the appealing party argued that the match is actually made more meaningful by the presence of two opponents:

“Please let me allay any concerns you might have regarding that game being meaningful. The game is unusual in one aspect only, and that is that it is effectively a game of three halves.

This is because the All Blacks play two provincial teams for 40 minutes each, with the third half being the two provincial teams against each other. This feature in fact makes the game more “meaningful” in our view because it increases the level of the competition for the All Blacks (who will have a fresh opponent for each half they play).”

The appeal committee, which included former Ulster fullback Stefan Terblanche, ruled that Williams is free to play rugby again from 12 August and will be available for the All Blacks’ first Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in Sydney.

Update: 16.30

The game’s governing body World Rugby reacted to the appeal decision with “surprise” in a brief statement released this afternoon.

While WR signalled it will respect the outcome of the appeals process, in a bid for ‘universal clarity and compliance’ it has vowed to re-visit the definition and interpretation of what constitutes a match and what does not when the Regulations Committee meets next month.

Their statement says: ”(World Rugby) is surprised by the committee’s interpretation of the definition of “match” (which is defined in Regulation 1 as “a game in which two teams compete against each other”).

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Sean Farrell

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