British & Irish Lions

Retired ref Owens says Jonker 'did Lions a favour': 'It was at least a yellow card'

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Willie le Roux. (EJ Langner/Gallo Images)
Willie le Roux. (EJ Langner/Gallo Images)

Renowned Welsh former international referee Nigel Owens said British and Irish Lions flank Hamish Watson was lucky not to be sin-binned for his tip-tackle on Springbok fullback Willie le Roux during Saturday's first Test in Cape Town.

Writing in his column for The Telegraph, the retired official said he didn't believe the Watson tackle, which lifted Le Roux's legs past the horizontal, was a red card offence, but "it should have been at least a yellow card."

Australian Referee Nic Berry and South African TMO Marius Jonker were criticised on social media and in the press in the aftermath of the Lions' stunning 22-17 win over the Springboks.

"I felt Nic Berry had a decent game overall, and there were a number of decisions where the TMO, Marius Jonker, had to be called upon," wrote Owens.

"The one decision where I disagreed with the officials, however, came with Hamish Watson's tip tackle on Willie Le Roux in the second half, when the British and Irish Lions flanker was penalised but not sanctioned any further. It should have been at least a yellow card.

"When you lift a player like that past the horizontal, the fact that Le Roux put his hands and the ball out to stop his fall is irrelevant. You do not take that into account as a referee.

"It's on the tackler, who was fortunate that Le Roux did not land on his neck or head and put out his arms to protect himself."

READ | Rassie responds to questionable calls: 'Sometimes they go for you, other times they don't'

The Watson tackle was but one of the numerous contentious decisions that could have gone either way on the night.

Le Roux also had a disallowed try in the second half after Jonker deemed him to be in front of second centre Lukhanyo Am's kick ahead that put him through on goal.

In another contentious sequence, Jonker awarded Faf de Klerk's try following a scrappy move where it seemed as if Pieter-Steph du Toit might have knocked the ball on before Makazole Mapimpi recovered possession.

De Klerk eventually touched down South Africa's only, rather sloppy, try.

"My gut feeling at the time was that Le Roux was in front of Lukanyo Am's kick," added Owens.

"If I was the referee running alongside next to the play, I would have blown up for Le Roux being in front. Jonker would have felt the same.

"The Faf de Klerk try, on the other hand, was correctly awarded."

The Lions lead the three-match series 1-0, with the second Test taking place at the same venue on Saturday.

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