November 2018 Test Match Review

Ireland 16 vs New Zealand 9

Saturday, November 17

Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 19:00 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England

Ah, the British press! Almost as jingoistic as some of Australia’s best television commentators, and certainly as gleeful as a Labrador in mud.

Ireland have beaten the All Blacks and the press has gone bananas.

Of course serial All Black-hater Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times was first out of the starting blocks: “Ireland took rugby’s globe and set it spinning, in an awestruck Dublin last night. They took notions of All Black infallibility and tore them to shreds.

“The World Cup may or may not have been turned on its head, but one thing is certain. Ireland know they can and should beat New Zealand; it is now Steve Hansen and the Kiwi coaches who have to catch up with Joe Schmidt, Andy Farrell and the Irish masterminds.”

The Observer’s Robert Kitson writes: “Brutal does not even begin to describe the contest but, for Ireland, the outcome was as beautiful as any in their rugby history.

“If New Zealand are still officially the world’s best team, it did not particularly feel that way at the final whistle.”

Also in The Observer, Andy Bull paid tribute to the Irish: “During the All Black haka, Ireland’s players lined up shoulder to shoulder and took a step forward together, to meet the challenge.”

That set the tone for what was, as Schmidt said, one of the great collective performances. You can’t start name-checking the standout Irish players without running through the entire side.”

Meanwhile, in The Daily Mail, Will Kelleher suggests Saturday night’s result was not just monumental for Ireland but is a shot in the arm for rugby itself.

“This result will reverberate around the world, and so it should. Ireland are world beaters. They have now sent the All Blacks packing twice in two years – no northern hemisphere side has done that since England were on the march to their World Cup win.

“With this win, Ireland have truly arrived. A genuine contender to All Black dominance his finally emerged.”

“The rugby world has shifted on its axis,” he writes.

Sam Hill used his piece in the Independent to tease: “It is less than three months since the preposterously one-eyed New Zealand Herald ran a front-page headline exclaiming “Just give us the World Cup now” after the All Blacks latest trouncing of Australia.”

He goes on to say: “But they will be worried. Seriously worried. They now know, if they didn’t before, that in Ireland they have a serious contender to the World Cup crown while Wales, South Africa and even England will have pricked up their ears at the latest dent inflicted on All Black armour. The World Cup in Japan next year is wide open. New Zealand are beatable. That is a statement of the obvious. England should have done it last week. Ireland saw the job through this week.”

Hill did use the words “steely-eyed” three times in his article as he described the Irish team, and Jonny Sexton.

The Telegraph’s Mick Cleary said: “Raise the arm, salute the winner, the undisputed heavyweight champions wearing emerald green.”

The Irish Times’ Patrick Madden wrote: “The world sat up and took notice as Ireland beat the All Blacks 16-9 on Saturday, their first win over New Zealand on home soil in 113 years of trying.”

I could go on and on, the sense of victory and unabashed relief that the All Blacks are beatable gushes from the pens of every British commentator. Right now, as winter looms over those benighted islands, there is much joy at the sighting of a swallow.

Summer has apparently arrived!!!!

Down here in the southern part of the world there is somewhat less glee, a little less vociferous celebration. We, the South Africans and the Australians know that beating the All Blacks is a massive thing, but that one victory on its own does not necessarily herald the beginning of summer, in rugby terms.

The Aussies beat the All Blacks in the 21st October in Brisbane last year, 23-18. Nobody suggested that the Wallabies were suddenly contenders for the Rugby World Cup, based on just that one win!

The Springboks recorded a stunning 36 – 34 win on the 15th September 2018-at the Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand.

The Springbok win was the first time New Zealand had lost to another country on home soil since 2009. Yes, they had also lost a Test at home in 2017, but that was to the British & Irish Lions, a combined team consisting of the best that four countries could cobble together and send onto a rugby field.

The Aussie victory in 2017 was special, for all Australian supporters, and the Springbok win in Wellington was huge for South African fans. In terms of world rugby results and statistics, it was perhaps even bigger than the Aussie win, simply because it brought to an end a 56-game All Black winning streak at home, against other countries.

Yet, in neither country, nor in the world press, and especially not in the British media were either of those two results celebrated with quite the same level of triumphant glee and the absolute certainty that the All Blacks were finally going to be dethroned.

But this Irish win is being trumpeted to the heavens as shredding the All Black myth of invincibility and turning the rugby world on its head.

Really?

Have no doubt that it was and always will be a wonderful result for Ireland. Those men in green played out of their skins. They thoroughly deserve every accolade, every round of applause, and every victory song that reverberated around Ireland last night.

They beat the All Blacks, and they beat them well.

Ireland produced a superb display of focussed, disciplined rugby to secure a monumental and thoroughly deserved victory over New Zealand.

However, I am not sure that this is the swallow that signals the end of New Zealand domination in rugby. This is still the most successful rugby team in international history, and they are likely to rebound from this loss, stronger and ever more focussed.

I am looking forward to the next time Ireland and New Zealand meet on a rugby field.

Lucky Rob Kearney!

No matter what the Irish TV commentators said, Rob Kearney can count himself extremely fortunate to have stayed on the field after he took out Rieko Ioane in the air in the second period.  By any measure of precedent set by the referees in world rugby that should have been a yellow card. Kearney did start the chase for the high ball watching the trajectory of the ball itself. Moments before the contact, however, he took his eyes off the ball and was looking at Ioane when he clattered into him, with his arms instinctively going around Ioane. Yes, it was not deliberate or malicious, but in every such incident in senior and Test rugby in the last three years, a card was produced. In New Zealand Angus Gardiner produced a red, for a Frenchman who was not even looking at Beauden Barrett when the latter jumped for the ball. Consistency is what each and every player, and each and every spectator calls for. Wayne Barnes was serenely confident in his own call and there was no intervention from the television match official or assistant referees to advise him otherwise. That was wrong! In terms of World Rugby’s current focus, the contact warranted 10 minutes.

The question must also be asked, would that have effected a change in fortunes on the field?

Lucky Sam Whitelock

When Whitelock slapped at the ball while sitting on the ground, a deliberate attempt to alter the direction of the ball in flight, Wayne Barnes yelled “Just a penalty…” which might be well and good if we had not seen South Africa’s Willie le Roux yellow carded for failing to regather an attempted interception just some 40 minutes earlier in the day.

If Barnes was consistent with the way the referees have applied Law 11,3 in the last couple of years, Whitelock should have seen a yellow card and ten minutes in the bin. Whereas Rob Kearney’s indiscretion in taking Ioane in the air was probably not deliberate, Whitelock’s attempt to slap the ball away was most certainly a deliberate knockdown.

The Irish Loosies

Perhaps the single biggest difference between the two teams was to be seen in the loose trios. The Irish trio completely dominated the tackle and breakdown areas, with Josh van der Flier, Rory Best, and Peter O’Mahony playing rugby of the highest quality. O’Mahony, in particular, was simply outstanding. Ardie Savea fought manfully, but alone, as both Kieran Read and Liam Squire seemed to be a meter off the pace and a minute behind in decision making throughout the game. When Squire was injured and hauled off, the arrival of Scott Barrett did nothing for the pace of the All Black loose trio, he is a lock who can play flank when the game is slow and go, but did not have the pace to match the speed across the ground of the three Irishmen.

The Irish trio were very clever in waiting for the right moment to contest the ball on the ground. They did not over-commit when there was no point in becoming entangled in the clutter over the ball. When they spotted the opportunity, they went for it with an aggressive zeal that the All Blacks simply did not match on the day.

Fatigue

Watching New Zealand make uncharacteristic handling errors and sloppy mistakes, one thing was very evident. Those men in black were running on empty. When Kieran Read fumbles a ball with the try line beaconing, when Beauden Barrett passes the ball to a man in a green jersey, when Brodie Retallick fumbles balls, when Aaron Smith looks as if he is sleepwalking……… The fatigue of a long, long year of rugby had drained them of the sparkle and enterprise that is the hallmark of the All Blacks. By the time the final whistle sounded the All Blacks were out on their feet.

Perhaps the folly of the two extra games in Japan, that third Bledisloe when the series was done and dusted, then the friendly against Japan, with all the extra travelling, coupled to the already long, long season was an extra burden the NZRU should have avoided.

This game was simply a bridge too far for the mighty All Blacks.

Outthought?

It is interesting to look at the Irish tactical approach.

Their defence was impressive, making 188 tackles while missing just 24. An 89% tackle success rate against the All Blacks is always going to be good.

The fire and focus, the zeal with which they played the game was wonderful to watch.

But it does not matter how well you tackle, and how zealous you are around the field, if your tactics are poor you are still likely to lose the game.

Ireland’s tactical nous was impressive indeed.

Joe Schmidt had simply outthought the entire All Black brains trust.

Ireland deliberately and consistently targeted the All Black blind or short side. Why? If you go back and look at the Tests that they have played in 2018, you will see that they have often had to scramble when a team takes them on by going to the short side. South Africa did it, the Argentinean Pumas did it, and on Saturday Ireland did it, successfully for Jacob Stockdale’s try. Joe Schmidt had done his homework.

More Thinking

Ireland used the rush defence to isolate All Black players individually.

Since the British Lions used the rush defence to disrupt the All Black back division’s rhythm, teams have focussed on this defensive system in almost every Test played across the world.

The All Blacks have worked on their counter to the rush defence, using short passes and offloads to switch the onrushing defence’s focus, they have also honed the tactic of shifting the ball in the moment before the tackle to force the defender to change his angle of attack and thus reduce the impact of the collision, allowing them to free the ball quickly and efficiently. These little changes work to create a bit of space on a field that has become immeasurably smaller and more cramped since the rush defence became the norm. Couple this to astute tactical kicking, the little chips and grubbers to slow or turn the rushing defenders, and you have drawn some of the teeth from the rush defence.

The Irish went a step further, knowing that the All Blacks had been working on changes to beat the rush defence, they changed the focus of the rush defence itself. Instead of focussing on the ball and ball carrier, they focussed on the men off the ball, they ensured that they got up to and into the faces of each and every All Black that might be called on to carry the ball. They inserted themselves into the All Black space, preventing the short pass and the offload, effectively forcing the All Blacks to play a more forward oriented direct game.

A very small variation to the rush defence, and the All Black’s work to counter that very system was negated.

The Pressure is On

Steve Hansen  was magnanimous in defeat. He was quick to say Joe Schmidt’s side can now be recognised as the best team on the planet – even if the official rankings say otherwise.

He acknowledged that the All Blacks were beaten by the better team on the night.

And then he added the little stinger:

“Let’s see how they handle the pressure of being Number One….”

I am looking forward to the next time these two meet in combat!

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Try: Stockdale
Con: Sexton
Pens: Sexton 3

For New Zealand:
Pens: Barrett 2
Drop-goal: Barrett

The Teams:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown