It didn’t take long for the big decisions to come the way of referee Ben O’Keeffe in the second Test between the Lions and South Africa.
After a controversial build up that saw Springbok Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus criticise the performance of last week’s referee Nic Berry, O’Keefe found himself with a real call to make in the 25th minute.
With Lions winger Duhan van der Merwe already in the sin bin for an obvious trip, things then erupted when Cheslin Kolbe took out Lions scrum-half Conor Murray in the air.
Fielding a clearance from Murray, Kolbe found Pollard, who stuck a high ball in the air around his own 10 metre line.
Murray came forward to gather just inside his own 10 metre line and took it brilliantly.
At the top of his jump, Murray was taken out by Kolbe, sparking a huge melee involving almost all the players.
You can follow the match live here now.
Here’s what happened afterwards…
Tom Curry and Maro Itoje stand over Kolbe as he is getting up off the floor, clearly disgusted with the challenge. As Kolbe gets to his feet, Curry seems to give Kolbe a gentle nudge.
From there, Kolbe reacts and throws his hand into Curry’s throat.
Willie Le Roux runs in and then players from all sides converge.
Walking away from the melee, Dan Biggar is shoved in the back by an onrushing Bongi Mbonambi. Biggar then headbutts Tadhg Furlong’s shoulder and goes down.
Eben Etzebeth and Itoje are throwing each other around as scuffles break out all over the general area. Both locks stay on their feet as Etzebeth undoes Itoje’s scrum cap and tries to pull it off his head.
At this point, referee O’Keeffe can be heard shouting: “Maro, leave it!”
Tempers flare after Cheslin Kolbe takes out Conor Murray in the air
Meanwhile, Biggar and Faf de Klerk are seen giving each other some verbals.
O’Keefe can be heard again: “Siya, Maro! We’re going to check everything on the screen. We’ll check it all.”
As the players disperse, Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones approaches O’Keefe but is told to go away: “Alun, we’re not talking, everyone back.”
At this point, Erasmus is on the field delivering messages.
O’Keeffe has an inaudible discussion with his assistant before bringing in TMO Marius Jonker.
“Marius, time’s off. There are two things we want to check,” said O’Keefe.
“The first thing is potential foul play with the contest in the air. Once we’ve made a decision on that we’re going to move on to the afters to see if there is anything further.
“I had a strong conversation with them before.”
Reviewing the incident, the first thing Jonker can be heard saying is: “I don’t see an obstruction by red.”
This is important because if a Lions player had blocked off Kolbe in any way or unsighted him, that would have been deemed as mitigation to bring it down from a red to a yellow card offence.
But Jonker is telling O’Keefe that there is no mitigation of that kind, Kolbe had a clear run and line of sight as he approached Murray.
After watching replays, O’Keeffe says: “Marius, can you show us the best angle of that collision in the air because at the moment we’ve got foul play against 14 green.”
South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe receives a yellow card
After watching more replays, O’Keeffe comes to conclusion that it is an incident worthy of a yellow card only.
“The first decision is we have an act of foul play,” says O’Keeffe. “We’ve got 14 coming in, he takes the player dangerously, who has won the space in the air.
“He makes contact dangerously and he [Murray] falls on his back. So it’s going to be a yellow card.”
There is no further explanation, at least that is clearly audible on TV coverage, to explain why the decision was mitigated down from a red to a yellow.
O’Keeffe’s description of Murray’s fall appears wrong as replays showed the scrum-half landing on his chest.
As O’Keeffe shows the yellow card, Jonker can be heard saying: “I agree with you.”
Both captains, Alun Wyn Jones and Siya Kolisi, are then called in by O’Keeffe to discuss the furore that followed the initial incident.
“Everything else – there are penalties against both of you players but we’re going with the foul play, yellow card, which is the worst,” said O’Keeffe.
“I’ve made it very clear that we’re not having any of that. If we didn’t have that collision in the air, we would have had penalties.
“We’re now stepping it up, if we get any touches like that, players will go off again. We’ve got a yellow card for both teams now and I’m very happy to keep going with yellow cards or even further.
“I need you both to control your teams.”
As the conversation finishes, the referee adds: “We’re not talking right now, Siya, I’m being very clear in my message. I want you to talk to your team.
“Alun, we’re not talking right now. Go back and talk to your team.”
Both Curry and Mbonambi escape sanction. The first-half was to last 62 minutes following the lengthy disruption and other incidents.