World Rugby surprise at decision to uphold Sonny Bill Williams' appeal
World Rugby has expressed surprise at an independent committee's finding that a training fixture for the All Blacks against both Counties Manukau and Taranaki will count towards the ban it imposed on Sonny Bill Williams for a dangerous tackle.
The All Blacks midfielder was shown a red card for a dangerous shoulder charge on British and Irish Lions wing Anthony Watson in the second test in Wellington last month and was suspended for four matches.
New Zealand Rugby had proposed Williams could serve the ban by missing the third Lions test, the final match of the Blues' Super Rugby season and two other games before the first Bledisloe Cup test on August 19.
World Rugby originally ruled that the televised training fixture involving both Counties and Taranaki, with each side playing one half of the match, would not count and Williams would have to miss the Bledisloe test to complete the ban. However, on appeal an independent disciplinary panel on Thursday found in favour of Williams.
World Rugby released a statement on Friday saying it was surprised by the decision.
"While World Rugby respects the decision of the independent appeal committee to uphold the appeal by New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams against the matches that counted towards his four-week suspension, it is surprised by the committee's interpretation of the definition of 'match' (which is defined in regulation 1 as 'a game in which two teams compete against each other')," the statement said.
"With the appeal process having been exhausted, World Rugby will refer the interpretation of the regulation to the Regulations Committee when it meets in September to examine the findings in the context of the game's regulations to ensure universal clarity and compliance with the meaning of the regulation moving forward."
NZ Rugby wasted little time appealing the verdict last Friday. It was understood they were highly upset by the decision not to recognise the All Blacks' specially arranged televised game against Taranaki and Counties, which will be fully officiated and have paying spectators, as constituting a "meaningful" match.
On appeal, Williams faced the three-man panel via video conference on Tuesday night. The committee was chaired by Justice Graeme Mew of Canada along with Shao-Ing Wang (Singapore) and Stefan Terblanche (South Africa).
The All Blacks face the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on August 19, with the return match against Australia in Dunedin the following week.
The former Kiwis international was the first All Black in 50 years to be sent off with a red card.