Lions tour: Warren Gatland welcomes judiciary decision to clear Sean O'Brien to play third test
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has hailed the rugby judiciary's decision to free flanker Sean O'Brien for the third test decider against the All Blacks.
The Irish backrower was cited for allegedly striking wing Waisake Naholo in the second test in Wellington.
In a significant boost for the touring side, an all-Australian judicial panel of Adam Casselden, David Croft and John Langford cleared O'Brien after a marathon hearing at New Zealand Rugby headquarters in Wellington on Sunday. It stretched more than three-and-a-half hours.
It was a big day for the panel who earlier rubbed All Blacks second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams out of the Auckland test with a four-week ban for a shoulder charge to the head of Lions wing Anthony Watson during the second test, won 24-21 by the Lions.
Gatland said in a statement the Lions would "like to thank the panel for their professional and diligent approach".
"Sean is tough but fair player and we are pleased that the panel dismissed the citing."
O'Brien was also happy with the decision.
"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," he said in the statement issued by Lions management.
O'Brien denied he committed an offence under law 10.4(a), and is free to play a massive series decider at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday.
"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... dismissed the citing complaint," the decision read, via NZ Rugby.
The signs weren't good for O'Brien after Australian citing commissioner Scott Nowland ruled referee Jerome Garces and his fellow officials had missed a red card offence.
Video of the incident in the 59th minute showed O'Brien making contact with Naholo's jaw with a swinging arm after the All Blacks wing received a kickoff and was tackled.
"The incident... is deemed to have met the threshold for a red card," Nowland said in a statement after O'Brien was cited for dangerous play.
Dangerous contact with the head is a no-no these days and a suspension looked likely.
Naholo was forced off the field for a head injury assessment and didn't return. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Sunday Naholo could have gone back on but they decided to take a cautious approach, which means the dynamic wing is likely to be cleared for Saturday's third test.
O'Brien was one of the Lions' best in Wellington, with his ball carries and strong work in contact.
The 30-year-old Leinster breakaway joined lock Maro Itoje with nine carries. O'Brien made 28 metres - the most by a Lions forward - and 12 tackles.
Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree, speaking earlier in the day, didn't want to comment on the hearing process.
"We'll deal with that, as and when. We've got a class group of back rowers and I've have no qualms about anyone else stepping up," he said.
"He [O'Brien] was outstanding. Right to the end of the game carrying the ball for us. He's the barometer of our energy and aggression in the game; his ball pressure, his tackling, his carrying."
Lions prop Mako Vunipola also raised referee Garces' ire, and was yellow carded for making contact with Beauden Barrett with his shoulder when cleaning out.