Blog: Our views on the SBW red card

Sonny Bill Williams red card Jerome Garces

Well, what a second test match that was as the British & Irish Lions fight back in the series with the first All Black defeat on home soil for a long time. And a match that saw the first ever All Black red card on New Zealand soil, as Sonny Bill Williams was dismissed for a shoulder charge to the head of the Lion, Anthony Watson.

There was been a lot of praise for referee Jerome Garces in making such a big call, but similarly there was a lot of noise across social media about the process – and seemingly how Jaco Peyper (JP) and the TMO, George Ayoub (AY) appeared to be trying to talk Jerome Garces (JG) down to a Yellow Card.  Now we’ve been through the tape, this is what actually happened:

  • Anthony Watson of the Lions picks up a loose ball near touch line and brings ball back in field. He is legally grasped by Black 14. Black 12 (Sonny Bill Williams) then enters same contact zone as second tackler.
  • Both players fall off and Lions players raise arms.
  • JG immediately says “have a look, have a look” – GA confirms.  The still from impact point shows Black 2 is in-between JG and SBW/AW and Peyper is on other side of the contact point.
  • Play goes on for a few moments.
  • GA “Jerome – check check” and play is stopped.  GA confirms looking at actions of Black 12 for no arms tackle.
  • Replays are shown
  • The protocol says that the TMO offers all available angles to the big screen before telling the referee that that’s it.
  • As replays are being shown, JG talks to Poite and Peyper off camera about it looking like deliberate contact to the head.
  • Cameras cut back to officials who are together, with water carrier, discussing incident. Jaco appears to say “he was looking down”
  • Jerome – looking at Jaco – explains he’s thinking red card. Clear nod and a “yep” from Peyper. Jerome (to both): do you agree? Then they both look at Poite who has back to camera so can’t tell if he reacts or if anything is said.
  • George Ayoub then comes in to say “those are all the angles” as per the protocol. There is a pause from Jerome who doesn’t then say anything.
  • Romain Poite then makes a comment that sounds like “there’s no force” and which Jaco says “you talking about force?”. Jerome replies to Jaco: “yes, but direct on the face..” – Protocol says they they look for reasons to work down from red so that is a legitimate point – all look at screen again.
  • Still no Jerome-to-George communication so George asks JG if he wants to to take another look.
  • Replays again shown.
  • No other audio until you see Jerome walking to give red card.


TMO in TV Truck

In the TV truck, the TMO will be focussed on working with the TV production crew to get angles on screen, look at others on preview, ask if there are other angles, and is therefore not really listening to what is being said on the field. As an aside, in most TMO positions, the commentators feed is also cut so there can be no suggestion of outside influence while the TMO is making the decisions.  The TMO has to make his own decision as well in case the technology fails, or he is asked for an opinion.

TMO process

As for the process, once a TMO has given the “that’s all the angles” message, the conversation should then shift to the referee to lead what happens next . In many of the test matches we’ve seen lately, the referee will then explain what he has seen and what he is intending to do – it would be at that point for ARs and TMO to challenge if they disagree.

Today, the referee doesn’t assume control of that conversation which would suggest that he hasn’t yet made a decision, so the TMO is just prompting. In all likelihood, he has not clearly heard the on-field conversation.

Want another look?

In the past, the phrase “do you want another look” by a TMO was code for: “I disagree and this is how I get you to rethink.” But that was a few seasons ago and as the TMO-to-referee communication channels and processes were bedding in. Now, TMOs have moved to a “speak normally” approach.  However, we can understand why this perception still lives on. But if you watch the clip through again, you can hopefully understand that they hadn’t reached that point of the process.



First things first, the laws of the game (amended in January 2017 to reflect head contact incidents) all lead to the correct awarding of a red card to Sonny Bill Williams.  It wasn’t a legal tackle, therefore was foul play. That lead to a shoulder on head contact. There were no mitigating factors.  Jerome should be commended for making such a call, albeit, relatively clear cut.

Secondly, if there is criticism to be had of this process, it should fall to the referee to lead the TMO communication more clearly.  We have seen some good examples of this lately. It would mean that this blogpost was unnecessary for a start!

Thirdly, there is nothing in here to suggest that either Jaco Peyper or TMO Ayoub had any differing  opinions on the matter. It is Poite who mentions force – as per the check on mitigating factors. Any criticism of Jaco Peyper and George Ayoub – on this occasion – are unwarranted.


On another incident we suspect the citing commissioner will be reviewing the Mako Vunipola yellow card very closely. We suspect that Ayoub wanted to discuss the sanction, but there appeared to be a breakdown in the communications. Clearly a wet winters night in Wellington can have that effect on communications kit!


Thanks for reading, do let us have your thoughts on this, or any other area of the game this evening.


  1. An act of violence designed to incapacitate a player should get a 1 year ban, and I am an ex player , ref in France and RFU and coach.

  2. Good read, can you analysis other foul play(SOB and Mako)?It just so vague in“contact head/neck”

    • Thanks. Would be difficult to analyse as we aren’t in the heads of those involved. The SBW incident was easier because you could see the process. The SOB incident was what could be described as a rugby incident. It didn’t appear to be foul play, but it’s difficult to explain outcome without seeing the judgement (which I’m not sure Sanzaar are releasing).

      The Mako incident is interesting. It was clear that TMO Ayoub wanted to have a closer look, but the comms didnt appear to be working (he’d had difficulty guiding Jerome to an earlier penalty spot). The citing commissioner could have looked at it, but was possibly hampered by not doing it for a replica incident in Test 1, when All Black did same to Farrell. Could have any one of three ways – nothing, yellow, red. The Citing Commissioner at WR level only allows for Red card threshold offences. Super Rugby has a tiered approach where the Citing officials can give off field yellow cards and warnings.

      Hope that helps

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