Is all lost? No, not yet, but it’s going to be one heck of a job for Ireland to pick things up now – two played, two lost, and both contests over by half-time.
If the team manage a series win from here it would truly be one of rugby’s great achievements.
The first question, though, is really about the structure of this tour. Why on earth throw in two additional matches against the Maori All Blacks? Ireland need the next one like a hole in the head. The answer may be partly money related, but, whatever the reasons, playing the equivalent of five Tests in three weeks is surely the stuff of madness.
Injuries and Johnny Sexton’s failed HIA, following an accidental collision with Sam Cane, are also likely to play their part. Sexton is now subject to World Rugby’s new ‘graduated return to play’ protocol, which require a minimum of 12 days rest before a player can return after a brain injury.
But, for want of a better word, there is a strange sort of ‘loophole’ in the phrasing. It states that players, without a history of concussion, who undergo further assessment which unearths no abnormal findings, may return to play on the seventh day after their injury. Let’s wait and see how all of that ‘history’ thing slots into the concussion record of our No 10. When does history start, and when does it finish?
New Zealand appeared adept at quickly positioning bodies past the ball after the tackle, and side entry certainly wasn’t out of the question
Above all, the only consideration is what is right for Sexton’s long-term health, nothing else matters. Irrespective of ‘loopholes’ and of his importance, he should not play on Saturday. The over-dependence on this single player remains a big spanner in the works, but it should not be allowed to dictate his selection in such circumstances.
While the result was decided by the interval, Ireland managed two tries of their own later on, and credit is due for perseverance. Joey Carbery was desperately unlucky not to touch down, and Peter O’Mahony was within his rights to query referee Karl Dickson about a high tackle. It would have been a harsh penalty try, so the referee got that one right, just.
When O’Mahony was illegally cleared out at the back of an Irish attacking ruck, Scott Barrett was penalised. But this needed so much more attention from the referee – it looked clear that Barrett’s shoulder had slammed into the head of the flanker. It was definitely red card territory, but no review was considered necessary. It’s just not good enough if referees are allowed to consign these incidents to the TMO booth.
Early on there was quick ruck ball, with Jamison Gibson-Park delivering fast and varied attacking options. But as the match developed, New Zealand illegalities crept in and the referee needed to reassess, have another hard look, and tighten things up. Andy Farrell will need to know exactly how the breakdown will be refereed in the Tests to come.
Farrell will have definite questions for Dickson, and he’ll be seeking absolute clarity from the next referee, Jaco Peyper, around this whole area. New Zealand appeared adept at quickly positioning bodies past the ball after the tackle, and side entry certainly wasn’t out of the question. It made contesting possession very difficult, impossible at times.
Marginally behind in the 30th minute, at 5-7, Ireland became impatient when chasing a try wide out on the New Zealand 22. They made a hash of things; it wasn’t helped by a Garry Ringrose pass which was certainly never coached by the mentors at his old school, Blackrock College.
James Lowe then lost his footing and Sevu Reece was right on hand to scoop up the loose ball – in a flash he had added another seven points. New Zealand would cross for two more converted tries before the sanctuary of half-time arrived for Ireland. It was typical stuff from the All Blacks – give them the mere sniff of a try and they’ll do the business.
Just a few days earlier, Ireland played poorly against the Maori in Hamilton. It was miserable weather, but nothing was more miserable than the treatment of prop Jeremy Loughman, who was obviously dazed, and very unsteady on his feet, after a knock to his head.
To the astonishment of those watching he returned to play after, apparently, passing a HIA. But there shouldn’t have been any HIA, World Rugby’s protocols are clear – a player visibly suffering in the way Loughman was must be permanently removed, immediately, no questions asked, no arguments brooked.
Wayne Barnes had a good, accurate, and much quieter match – it should become his permanent modus operandi
The player was replaced at half-time, seemingly because video evidence, not previously seen, was then available. Heavens above, we could all see it from about 8,000 miles away, so why detailed footage needed to be studied is a mystery. It was an appalling vista, plain and simple, and no amount of diversionary comment should be allowed to excuse it.
Again, this match was over too soon, the Maori had an insurmountable lead by half-time. They burned Ireland for sheer pace and scored some magical tries, Zarn Sullivan, Shaun Stevenson and Josh Ioane, were way above anything the Irish had to offer.
Wayne Barnes had a good, accurate, and much quieter match – it should become his permanent modus operandi. He will referee the final Test and let’s hope for a repeat performance. I’ve been on his case a little bit from time to time, but when he’s concentrating, rather than over-chattering, he is far better for it.
Barnes has just completed 250 Premiership matches, and is heading for 100 Test matches, those are extraordinary numbers.
He might, though, have been surprised that his yellow card, in the Premiership final, was queried by the citing commissioner – it’s not often that Barnes’s judgment is questioned. The judiciary agreed, and Saracen’s Aled Davies has been suspended for three weeks.
The dogs on the street knew that Ireland were sailing into the strong headwinds of a very tough tour and a victory next time out seems an imperative. A win or two, maybe less, would not have been on the planning agenda – here’s hoping that the ship, taking in quite a lot of water right now, can right itself.