LAST WEEKEND’S TEST IN DUBLIN WAS ONE OF THE MOST COMPELLING AND ONE OF THE MOST BRUTAL IN MANY A MOON AS THE ALL BLACKS CIRCLED THE WAGONS FOR A FACE-SAVING WIN OVER A COMMITTED AND DYNAMIC IRISH TEAM. WHICH WAS THE MORE HARD-FOUGHT, THOUGH; THE GAME OR THE BITTER POST-MORTEM?
Duncan Johnstone – according to his Twitter profile – is a ‘senior sports writer’ from Fairfax, New Zealand. I’ve never met him, I’ve never heard of him so for all I know, he’s a suave, good-looking, god-fearing bloke who’d cheerfully stand you a beer, use a handkerchief and not wipe his nose on the curtains. But for his sake and for ours, wouldn’t it be wonderful if he’d open his other eye?
Duncan was the guy who, this week, wrote a pitiless, witless piece entitled: ‘Control yourself Ireland, you’ve replaced England as the new whingers of world rugby’, proof – were it needed – that bad-mouthing others generally says more about you than it does them. The ‘Irish Independent’ did put some of his more incendiary remarks on the coconut shy but in case you missed it – and that’d be a shame – here’s the article in full along with some commentary notes for the hard of hearing.
Sadly, it seems the Irish are the new whingers of World Rugby. (A punchy opening there, Duncan. Bit of a stretch, perhaps, to go from some noise in the Irish newspapers – mainly about the officiating – to damning an entire nation but, let’s face it, no one gets paid for writing dull opening sentences.)
It’s a term we Kiwis have traditionally reserved for the English, the ‘whinging Poms’ of the game. (Ah, the tired and tested ‘whinging Poms’ line. And there we all were thinking lazy journalism was dead.)
But the outpouring of Irish outrage against the All Blacks following their 21-9 win in Dublin last weekend has been the equal of anything that has emerged from Fleet Street on previous tours. (Such as what precisely? Are you going to offer any evidence here, counsel, or are we just supposed to pass this stuff on the nod?)
The Irish media have been relentless – and ridiculous. (Again, have you got any examples you’d like to share here? No? None at all? Duncan, I hate to be picky but we’re going to need a bit of detail. Did they not mention this at journalism school?)
I’ve long admired the Irish attitude – Brian O’Driscoll aside at times, of course – and their open admiration for the All Blacks. (Ah, now, finally I’m reading you loud and clear here, DJ. Love the Irish when they queue up to buy you a Guinness and tell you how gorgeous you are; love them slightly less when they have the temerity to speak their mind about being dislocated at the sharp end of a tag-team, spear tackle.)
They have continually played an adventurous game compared to most of their northern counterparts … (Not – perhaps – the most accurate of historical perspectives but we’ll let that one pass) … and generally approached things with an easy-going attitude that befits the country’s friendly reputation. (Which, roughly translates as; ‘we much prefer it when we can just pat the Irish on the head and stick forty points on them without having to worry whether about they’re actually going to turn us over.’ Understandable.)
But that seems to have changed since they beat the All Blacks in Chicago, ending 111 years of misery against New Zealand. (Not that you’re bitter, of course.) Suddenly they are ‘mightier than thou’. But if you’ve beaten the best and want to be the best, then start acting like the best. (Can’t for the life of me work out where these two sentences have come from or where they’re supposed to be going. Still listening, though.)
Did they not realise they stirred the beast with their historic victory, that the All Blacks would come at them with increased tempo and physicality in Dublin? (Er, yes, they did. In fact the Ireland camp talked about little else all last week. Forgive me for pointing this out, DJ, but you need to sharpen up a little here.)
They were the missing ingredients in a sub-par performance by Steve Hansen’s side in the United States. (In other words, Ireland didn’t win in Chicago; it was New Zealand who lost.) The rematch was always going to go up another level in terms of attitude and grunt. (Yes, as I said, I think we all got that. Nobody paid good money to go to the Aviva Stadium to watch a picnic and a game of Parcheesi.)
To suggest the All Blacks are dirty – and that’s the only inference one can take from the vitriol that has emerged over the last few days – is an insult to the world’s best team. (Hmm. I don’t remember anyone using the ‘dirty’ word other than Steve Hansen in his testy, post-match interview with RTE’s Claire MacNamara. You appear to be inventing your own grievances here, Duncan.)
Even World Rugby’s judiciary seemed to agree. Yes, they nailed a reckless Malakai Fekitoa but their dismissal of Sam Cane’s alleged dangerous tackle was a victory for common sense. (With you one hundred per cent on Fekitoa but I’m not sure absolutely everyone would agree with your ‘victory for common sense’ line on Sam Cane. No matter. Let’s respect (a) the Disciplinary Hearing’s verdict and (b) Steve Hansen’s insistence that there was nothing malicious in either tackle.)
That probably won’t silence the Irish disdain. If anything, get ready for a fever-pitched response of repulsion to the All Blacks flanker walking free. (You’re inventing your own grievances again here, aren’t you? Didn’t we just talk about this? You’re also inventing your own language. ‘A fever-pitched response of revulsion’? I’ll have to go away and look that one up. Bear with me a moment, will you?)
It should fall on deaf ears here, just as we’ve tried to shrug off the over-the-top reactions in the aftermath to the All Blacks coming through the Dublin demolition derby. (In other words, you don’t give a sixpenny stuff what anyone else thinks because you’re not listening. Not terribly thick-skinned, are you? And while we’re there, not sure about the clunking alliteration either but, hey, each to their own.)
The All Blacks aren’t coached to go out and tackle high. (Sorry, is anyone seriously suggesting that they are?) They are encouraged to find the operational perimeters allowed by each referee they are confronted with and, yes, sometimes, it results in cynical play, a win at all costs approach. But they aren’t alone here. (‘The operational perimeters allowed by each referee they’re confronted with’? Sub-editor’s day off, was it? But, otherwise, yes: regrettably, that’s what professional sport occasionally boils down to – con the referee as best you can, moan about him afterwards if you’ve lost but, however cynical you have to be, just win the game. I think that’s a given for most teams, Duncan, not just New Zealand.)
High tackles happen, they aren’t restricted to the All Blacks. (Yes, I think that’s a given too.) In a game where ball-and-all tackles have developed to smother offloads and distribution rather than the traditional low approach to cut off the legs, high hits are an inevitable by-product. (Indeed they are but as Gordon D’Arcy calmly and correctly pointed out in ‘The Irish Times’ this week – and here’s the nuts of the thing, DJ – ‘the tackler has a responsibility to the player he hits’ so if he goes for the big bang and clocks him in the chops, he has to accept the consequences, the more so when head injuries are such a blight on the game. Or do we not care how many people we concuss?)
It only takes the ball carrier to run low or duck and tackles are made to look far worse. (Agreed, but – legally – that’s the tackler’s problem and the risk he runs if he flies in at chest height.) The All Blacks play with controlled aggression. The All Blacks play with controlled arrogance. These are hallmarks of most top sporting teams in the world. (I’m not sure I know what ‘controlled arrogance’ means . You’re foxing me here. Controlled aggression? I thought you just said Malakai Fekitoa was ‘reckless’. Controlled? Reckless? Aren’t they opposites? I’m confused. You’re confused. Duncan, this isn’t going terribly well, is it?)
It helps separate them from the second best, the types who sit back and later look for excuses. (What sort of excuses do you have in mind? Food poisoning? Bugged team rooms? ‘Crap’ officiating from a referee in a big game such as, for instance, a World Cup quarter final?)
It’s time to move on Ireland. The All Blacks already have. (Er, I hate to bring this up but you clearly missed Jamie Heaslip’s soundbite earlier this week; ‘There’s no point looking back. The game’s over. They won.’ Are you quite sure you’re paying attention, here?) They will enjoy their time in Paris where physicality and pushing the boundaries have long been a trademark of the French game. (Enjoy their time in Paris unless, of course, those pesky Frenchies turn them over again, eh? Seriously? You didn’t know that Wayne Barnes is the referee this weekend? Zut alors.)
24th NOVEMBER 2016