Sean O’Brien cleared to play in Lions series decider

Irish flanker was cited for dangerous play but cleared in disciplinary hearing

Sean O’Brien is free to play for the Lions in next Saturday’s momentous third test series decider against the All Blacks after the citing against him for an incident in their second test win in Wellington was dismissed at a hearing lasting almost four hours in the New Zealand capital.

O'Brien had been cited for striking the All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo in the 58th minute when following up a restart by Johnny Sexton after the Lions had fallen 18-9 behind. He was represented by Max Duthie, the Lions legal representative, while the Lions head coach Warren Gatland and manager John Spencer also attended.

The citing commissioner, Scott Nowland of Australia, had said the incident in the 19th minute of the second half was deemed to have met the threshold for a red card.

However, O'Brien denied he committed an offence under Law 10.4(a), and a statement on behalf of New Zealand rugby stated: "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 Max Duthie, the Independent Judicial Committee comprising Adam Casselden SC (Chair), David Croft (Ex-Australian and Queensland Reds player) and John Langford (Ex-Australian, Brumbies and Munster player) dismissed the citing complaint."


The Lions issued a statement in which O’Brien was quoted as saying: “Firstly, I hope Waisake is okay. I’d like to thank the panel for carefully considering the case and I am looking forward to rejoining the whole squad to prepare for the final test.”

Gatland said: “We’d like to thank the panel for their professional and diligent approach. Sean is a tough but fair player and we are pleased that the panel dismissed the citing.”

When Naholo gathered Sexton’s restart and ran the ball back before being tackled, O’Brien followed through with his right arm in an apparent attempt to dislodge the ball, but connected with the side of Naholo’s face. Naholo went off for an HIA, which he failed. This in turn fuelled the fear that O’Brien might be suspended for the series decider.

It is unclear as to why the disciplinary panel, which comprised two former players, eventually dismissed the citing after a lengthy hearing.

Following on from his one-game ban for the World Cup quarter-final defeat against Argentina for punching Pascal Pape in Ireland's pool decider win over France, for O'Brien to have missed out on this decider would have been cruel.

O'Brien has been in prime condition and vintage form in this tour to date, not least in the two tests. Speaking prior to the hearing in Wellington earlier in the day, the Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree described O'Brien as "outstanding," adding: "he's the barometer of our energy and aggression in the game. His ball pressure, his tackling, his carrying. I think he's been outstanding."

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times