Lions tour: Sonny Bill Williams ban a blessing in disguise for 'bloodied' All Blacks?
Sonny Bill Williams' four-week ban could be a blessing in disguise for the "bloodied" All Blacks, according to British and Irish media.
Williams was told of his suspension at a hearing in Wellington on Sunday, after his 25th minute red card for a shoulder charge that made contact with Lions winger Anthony Watson's head during the second test.
The Lions won 24-21 on Saturday to level the series at 1-1 and the All Blacks have called up Highlanders midfielder Malakai Fekitoa ahead of the deciding test at Eden Park.
Fekitoa could start on Saturday, after originally being omitted from the All Blacks squad named in June, as the Lions chase a first series win in New Zealand since 1971.
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Former Ireland lock Neil Francis believes the Lions' victory in the second test has shifted the momentum in their favour, and left All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with a "bloodied nose" after "clowning around" with Lions counterpart Warren Gatland.
But Gerard Meagher of the Guardian explained that Williams' absence for the third test could work in Hansen's favour after Lions midfielder Ben Te'o "shackled" him in the first test, which the All Blacks won 30-15.
"It is easy to argue that [Ryan] Crotty and [Anton] Lienert-Brown ought to have started that match or, put another way, that Hansen may be guilty of showing too much loyalty to Williams," he wrote.
"That is not to punish Williams unduly for his transgression in Wellington.
"Reckless contact with the head means his red card and suspension is fully warranted but he has shown contrition for what was an unintentional act. His absence in Auckland, however, may prove to be to Hansen's benefit."
Fekitoa starred in the Highlanders' 23-22 victory over the Lions in Dunedin and Meager added: "He demonstrated what a handful he can be.
"[Ngani] Laumape, meanwhile, caused the Lions considerable problems in both his outings against the tourists in Wellington while Crotty has an undervalued calming influence whenever he plays for New Zealand.
"Hansen, therefore, has three realistic options to fill the void left by Williams and a strong case can be made that each would be an improvement."
Laumape made his test debut off the bench in Wellington after Williams was sent off and he lined up alongside Lienert-Brown, who replaced Crotty for the second test after the Crusaders midfielder suffered a hamstring injury in the first.
Francis wrote in the Irish Independent that the nature of the Lions' victory in Wellington makes the outcome of the deciding test more unclear and questioned where the All Blacks were at mentally.
"As Mike Tyson said, 'Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.' Last week the All Blacks had to shuffle the deck due to injury. Yesterday [Saturday] they had to shuffle the deck because one of their best players was deservedly sent to the line.
"The All Blacks, playing with 14 men for the remaining 55 minutes, looked like they were still going to think their way through this game and cope defensively with what was thrown at them.
"But they were unconvincing when it mattered most and the guys they expect leadership from did not surface when the heat came on and the better team won on the day. This turnaround merely muddies the water even more.
"It is true to say at international level that if you get a man sent to the bin you can expect to concede seven or eight points in his absence. It is quite a disadvantage to play with 14 men yet you figured that the All Blacks would manage it."
- Audio courtesy RNZ
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