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Van der Merwe's heroics silence the Twickenham masses

A try for the ages lights up a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations rugby as Scotland, Ireland and France register away wins

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'Control your teams': Yellow cards fire-up Lions-Boks first half

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The second Lions versus Springboks Test was always likely to be tempestuous following the angry build-up to the rematch in Cape Town and it didn’t disappoint from that perspective, even though the quality of the tryless first half rugby left much to be desired. A warning was issued to both skippers – Alun Wyn Jones of the Lions and South Africa’s Siya Kolisi – following an early all-in dust-up as the Lions sought the win that would see them clinch the Test series with a game to spare. 


This was followed by the sorry sight of Pieter-Steph du Toit going off with an injured shoulder after getting hit in a bruising tackle by Duhan van der Merwe that went unchecked by the officials. However, referee Ben O’Keeffe was soon dipping into his pocket, brandishing a 23rd-minute yellow card to van der Merwe for a foot-trip on Cheslin Kolbe and then despatching Kolbe to the same sin bin two minutes later after he took Conor Murray out in the air.  

In the review of the van der Merwe yellow card incident, O’Keeffe told TMO Marius Jonker: “I want you to put the last play on 14 green on the screen please and we are going to make a decision. I have seen a foot-trip and believe it is a yellow. We just want to confirm it… Okay, so he has clearly foot tripped him, nowhere near the ball, it is not a kick.”

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Matt Dawson on the 1997 Test series winning Lions tour to South Africa
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Matt Dawson on the 1997 Test series winning Lions tour to South Africa

Test centurion referee Nigel Owens reacted to this decision, commenting on Sky Sports: “That is a fair call. He [van der Merwe] goes to kick the ball but he gets it wrong and he has kicked the player accidentally and it is a yellow. That is good teamwork by the officials. It’s a sensible decision as well.”

This yellow card for the Lions winger came just minutes after van der Merwe, who was accused by Rassie Erasmus of getting away with a first Test spear tackle, had been involved in the tackle that injured du Toit and put him out of the game. Sam Warburton added: “It is frustrating for the Lions. 

“You wonder whether van der Merwe’s emotions are just a little bit too high. He had the tackle on du Toit which is why he has gone off. I thought he was quite lucky there that that [the tackle on du Toit] didn’t get looked at and he has cost the Lions with that trip. You just can’t do that. Any trip is going to be cynical. You just can’t do that at all.”


Owens continued: “Sam is right there. They are lucky the officials didn’t take a further look at that because he followed through and he didn’t really need to. As a tackler, you know the ball has gone there. It was a needless act to make so he is very fortunate it didn’t get looked at.” 

With van der Merwe binned, it wasn’t long before O’Keeffe and his officials were again reviewing foul play as Kolbe clattered into the aerial Murray on 25 minutes, sparking a bust-up involving multiple players with the score 6-3 in favour of the Lions at the time. 

Owens commented before the decision was reached: “Even though Conor Murray puts his hand out to save himself if the actions of Kolbe are enough to warrant a red card, the fact that he hits his head or shoulder first is irrelevant. If that is going to be reckless, that is a bad fall. The only thing they will take into consideration is Murray put his hand out to break the fall but that shouldn’t be relevant really.”

In the end, O’Keeffe decided: “Marius, the first decision is we have got an act of foul play. We have got 14 coming in and he takes the player dangerously… he makes contact dangerously and he [Murray] falls on his back so it is going to be a yellow card.”


The referee then addressed the rival skippers: “I have made it clear we are not going to have any of that. If we didn’t have that collision in the air we would have had penalties… if we keep getting touches like that players will go off again. We have a yellow card for both teams now and I am very happy to keep going with yellow cards or even further, so I need you both to control your teams.”


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