by Kristian Ross
With the Guinness Series coming to an end this weekend against Australia, Irish Rugby can take many positives from a few weeks that has seen them topple the mighty New Zealand and blood youth against Canada in what has no doubt given pundits and fans alike a real sense that this improving side could be the start of something very special.
Ireland’s defeat to the All Blacks on Saturday was nonetheless disappointing. What they did right in Chicago at Soldier Field could not be repeated at a packed-out Aviva Stadium, despite a huge amount of possession. The All Blacks deserved the win and on the day, the home side simply weren’t good enough.
But a real storm is brewing and it’s seemingly about a phrase of playing “close to the edge”. If you’re a rugby fan, watching the New Zealand national side over the last five years has been nothing short of brilliant, a team that is not only on a wavelength with each other that has never been seen before, but one that has provided some of the most spectacular test matches.
However, the All Blacks committed numerous infringements at the breakdown in D4 at the start of the weekend, not to mention the high tackles of Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa. Now it seems almost redundant as both players have been cited, but a serious injury to the players on the end of those tackles could have told a different story. The problem is, they’ve been defended for it, with the aforementioned statement of “they play close to the edge”. What exactly does that mean? It’s probably up to you to decide, but for me that means playing to the very boundaries of the rules but not breaking them.
Unfortunately for Ireland, Jaco Peyper’s reluctance over the weekend to stamp his authority on the game sparked a real debate. He almost seemed scared of a backlash from the All Black side and often referred to his TMO, Jon Mason. Steve Hansen was clearly disappointed that the All Blacks conceded well over ten penalties and lost two players to the sin bin, something the Joe Schmidt’s side should have capitalised on, but didn’t.
Ultimately, if this had been say Wales or France or any other rugby nation, provincial or club side that made it into double figures for a penalty count or had two players yellow carded, there would be no debate. No talk of playing “close to the edge”. Just dirty play and let’s face it, some of the All Black tackles were not appropriate but because of the unparalleled success and domination over the last few years, it seems many find it wrong to criticise them. Perhaps the question should be asked of the officials at the weekend, in a match that was clearly frustrating for Rory Best, who seemed genuinely concerned at times that Peyper and co weren’t doing their job, not just in terms of the breakdown, but a forward pass for the final New Zealand try and Beauden Barrett’s score that like suspiciously like it may not have been grounded.
But at almost the end of a long year, let’s remember the All Blacks are not the be all and end all of rugby, many great teams have come and gone and no doubt one day they will be overtaken. They aren’t the invincible, perfect and wonderful team that many in the rugby world believe. Let’s now be clear, the All Blacks are not a special case and the sooner some realise that… the better.
@Kristian7Ross - 22, Geordie, part time journalist and Irish Rugby fan.
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