Ireland’s 21-9 loss to New Zealand on Saturday was overshadowed by accusations of excessive and reckless physicality by the All Blacks as well as questionable officiating at key moments in the game.
All mud slinging aside, the second Guinness Series test between the mighty New Zealand and Ireland gave fans one of the best games of rugby this year. Skilful, committed, relentless, the Aviva Stadium bore witness to two greats of world rugby, performing to the limit of their capabilities.
In the end the better side won. The All Blacks were more clinical where it mattered, the final five meters. Ireland had their chances to make the score more reflective of the contest but when it came to repeating the five-try heroics of two weeks earlier, it was simply not to be.
Now, following the citations of Sam Cane and Malaki Fekitoa for their respective challenges on Robbie Henshaw and Simon Zebo, World Rugby has returned a one-week ban for Fekitoa and exoneration for Cane.
Deeming Cane’s challenge on Henshaw an accident, rugby’s governing body were far more critical of the high tackle by Fekitoa on Zebo, going so far as to say that the yellow card issued by referee Jaco Peyper could and should have been red.
In a statement released following the rulings, and reported by Radio NZ, World Rugby concluded:
“The disciplinary committee found that Fekitoa’s actions would have warranted a red card, albeit that he had acted recklessly rather than intentionally.”
With a one-match ban handed down, Fekitoa will now miss the All Blacks’ final series game with France on Saturday.
While many Irish fans might well feel aggrieved by the perceived lenient sanctions issued on Tuesday, Ireland vice-captain Jamie Heaslip has taken steps to quiet the unrest among fans.
Speaking to the Irish Times, Heaslip makes light of the physicality brought by the world champions last weekend.
“Yeah, playing against New Zealand. It is intense. That’s international rugby, lads.
“I am not concerned at all. You enter the game knowing there is a risk. It’s a physical game, you know.
“A lot of games, people get banged up – dead legs, tears, shoulders, knee, ankle. It’s a contact sport, people get hurt.
“They’re physical games. I’m not going to hide the fact that it’s a physical sport. You’re running into someone! Physics dictate there’s going to be impact, there’s going to be force and sometimes lads get banged up.
“Sometimes someone gets a shot in the head. A lad falls on you. You get a knee in the head. All sorts of things can happen, you know what I mean.”
Heaslip’s comments come as a timely reminder that bangs and knocks are part of test rugby, where the best teams go head-to-head. With Australia to come next weekend, players and fans should now put the All Blacks games behind them and focus on the job at hand.
While you might well imagine Joe Schmidt’s men are fully focused on the visiting Wallabies, fans must now follow suit, particularly in light of Heaslip’s comments.
Ireland take on Australia on Saturday, November 26th in Dublin at 5:30pm.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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