The wonders of Wellington, and the cork-popping celebrations in my neck of the woods, were brought to a shuddering halt with shocking news.
The former Welsh Grand Slam captain, Ryan Jones, has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He is only forty one years of age.
There cannot be a household in the rugby world, right now, which is not thinking very hard about where this game fits into their lives, and, indeed, whether it should or not.
At the same time we hear from leading coaches, and pundit commentators, that there are too many red cards, that many of the brain injury collisions are simply accidents, and that concussions are inevitable, I suggest that they might need to re-think their position. These people are hugely influential, and, at the moment, there is a distinct gap between the hemispheres in relation to all of this, and it has to be settled. Over to you, World Rugby.
My question to these people is a simple one - if concussions are inevitable, do you accept that early onset dementia is inevitable too? Don’t beat about the bush with the answer, a simple ‘yes,’ or ‘no’, will do very nicely.
Andrew Porter was very fortunate to avoid the ultimate sanction for his upright head to head tackle on Brodie Retallick, this was a crucial decision by Wayne Barnes. My immediate reaction was ‘red,’ and we have seen these given for similar collisions.
However, protocols for mitigating circumstances state the following: “upright - passive versus dynamic.” So, by reason of being static, in other words passive, Porter avoided the red card. In general terms it’s hard to see that mitigation getting consistency, or coherence, across the whole game; nonetheless, it explains where the referee was coming from with his decision to go with yellow.
“If Ireland can turn things around from here it will be one of the all time great achievements.”
Words to that effect were written in this column after the first two heavy defeats. Well, Ireland did the turning, and it will forever remain one of the greatest stories in the history of rugby. It will never need embellishing, it’s not just gold plated, it is pure bullion. I didn’t believe that it could be done, and am more than happy to admit the error of my ways. I won’t be the only one, and will be equally happy to eat my slice of humble pie - tuck in everybody, this victorious recipe is actually delicious.
As in the second Test, everyone was a lion-hearted champion, and the performance of the engine room, Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan, was central to events. It’s doubtful if anyone can remember a secondrow performance which matched Beirne’s, and Ryan put in his best stint for a long time. Together, they completely outplayed the non-plussed Sam Whitlock and Brodie Retallick.
There is just a tiny number of referees in the world who could have handled a match of such high intensity and drama; Barnes did exceptionally well. His early work at the scrum paid dividends, and it ensured that there was a flow to the rugby which was not interrupted by continuous resets.
His first half performance was well nigh-on impeccable, and his second half not far behind. New Zealand will look at the referee’s decision to penalise Ardie Saveea for offside five metres from his own goal-line, with the ball clearly out of the ruck on the Irish side. The question for Barnes was did Savea start from an onside position or not; the referee judged he was offside, and that looked a correct decision.
Most impressive was his balanced approach, as fortunes and the dynamics changed in the All-Blacks’ favour in the second half, his decision making remained consistent with what he had delivered in the first half. His calls were explained succinctly, and there was enormous buy-in from both teams.
My only real surprise of the evening, apart for some side entry missed, was that the officials did not have a look at a late hit on James Lowe after the winger delivered his scoring pass to Hugo Keenan. But, let’s not quibble, the match got the referee it needed.
Trouble for Foster
New Zealand are very far from the habit of dismissing coaches, but they desperately need to do something, and do it fast. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest,” that clever hint by King Henry ll saw his henchmen depart to slay Archbishop Thomas Becket. Twisting the story slightly, maybe someone needs to give a hint to Ian Foster, and perhaps he’ll fall on his own sword.
New Zealand have other problems too. The very serious fall-off in playing numbers at school and otherwise is eating into its former rich resources, with boys very keen to avoid concussive brain injuries. Basketball is a big winner as alternative sports are sought. Cricket, too, is looking at newfound success, and it doesn’t need much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that this is a profession which young men might well prefer.
Ireland’s midweek match saw a splendid display against the Maori. Referee Karl Dickson was better, and this time did penalise players for going beyond the breakdown; but, and he is not alone, needs to understand the laws of the game a whole lot better. A deliberate Maori knock-on was debated by the officials around whether or not the player had a chance to regather. That is utter nonsense, the law is wise, any intentional slap forward of the ball cannot be redeemed by subsequently catching it before it hits the ground, or another player.
That allowance is only given to a player making a genuine attempt to catch the ball.
Think of it, for a moment, how many more tries would have been added to Brian O’Driscoll’s record credit column if he could have had that lee-way: a quick tap forward past the rushing defence, run around and catch it, job done.
It is unthinkable that a lack of basic law knowledge could decide something important in the World Cup. On second thoughts, it is thinkable.