Ireland count casualties after brutal battle with All Blacks

Henshaw, Stander and Kearney undergo tests to determine extent of head injuries

The effects of Saturday’s full-on, absorbing, compelling and often brutal Test match at the Aviva Stadium will linger for the rest of the week and, indeed, beyond. The turnover from the second meeting with the All Blacks into next Saturday’s Guinness Series final with the Wallabies was always likely to be the most exacting and difficult, and all the more so after the events of last Saturday.

To begin with, the Irish medical staff needed another 24 hours to assess the extent of the head injuries suffered by Robbie Henshaw, CJ Stander and Rob Kearney, as well as Johnny Sexton's hamstring.

Then there was the review of the second instalment with the All Blacks. Whatever about trading blow for blow over two bruising games, Ireland virtually traded point for point with the All Blacks (the aggregate was 50-49 in their favour).

This November has been memorable and a huge step forward in many ways for this Ireland squad. However, Australia arrived in Dublin yesterday having added a 25-23 win over France in Paris on Saturday night to previous wins over Wales and Scotland, with a Grand Slam now in the offing against Ireland and England over the next two Saturdays.


Hence, it is too early for Joe Schmidt to deem this autumnal window (more wintery at a bitterly cold Aviva on Saturday) a success or not.

“Well, we’re going to potentially see some different personnel and it’s hard to assess a series when you go match by match because the personnel are quite different,” he said. “Obviously, there was success against Canada in that there were a number of guys, I think the number of new caps was us trying to take an opportunity to have a bit of a look, and to work with a wider group.

Knocked about

“We’ll probably be afforded that opportunity to a degree again next week because we have guys who are knocked about.

"So, as far as looking at the overall series, if you had said to me before the series that you'd be two out of three going into the Wallabies, I probably would have taken it because that means we'd have to have beaten New Zealand in one of those two games. Considering we hadn't done it in 30-odd times of trying in 111 years, you'd probably put your hand up and take one of those.

“As it is now, we weren’t that far away and I think there’s huge merit in the effort that the players put in. Some of the time, as much as you want to be really clear and crisp about what you’re doing, some of it was just pure effort.

“I thought we didn’t really have a lot of clarity or direction, but gee, they were just determined to try and keep going and they did it incredibly well.”

The challenge now will be to regroup for a rendezvous with Schmist's predecessor at Leinster, Michael Cheika, and his rejuvenated World Cup finalists.

“The one thing we’d say is that once that’s parked we talk about who is there, who is available and we invest and they invest and we come out and try to hit the ground running, try to be as effective as we can be.

"We did that in South Africa, we had to do it in the Six Nations where guys who were talked about now like Ultan Dillane and Josh van der Flier; those sorts of guys, got blooded in. What you can't probably expect is seamlessness when you have tight windows and guys coming in. So, the challenge for us is to invest as much as we possibly can in getting as much cohesion as we possibly can for next weekend."

Aggrieved over Jaco Peyper’s performance in Paris last February, as for the All Blacks’ intimidatory approach and the South African’s lenient refereeing on Saturday, Schmidt bit his tongue and opted to keep whatever grievances he had within the appropriate channels.


“Yeah, look, being vocal, is that a solution? I don’t know. I think you can be vocal through the appropriate channels. I think there’s always a risk in being outspoken when if you want to effect change you need to have a rapport, you need to engage with people who are making the decisions. If you isolate yourself from them then I think you have less access to them and then you potentially have less opportunity to have some sort of discourse to get some answers or to effect change.”

For their part, the All Blacks took their early afternoon charter to Paris for their final Test of 2016 against France resigned to being without fullback Ben Smith (broken finger) and flanker Sam Cane, who has a "high ankle sprain", while back-up lock Patrick Tuipulutu returned to New Zealand for "personal reasons".

"It was a good Test match by both sides and plenty of attitude from both teams," said Steve Hansen at his Sunday morning press briefing in Dublin.

"Obviously the discipline has got to improve. The Rob Henshaw tackle was a head clash [with Cane]. I just reviewed it again there this morning and they have collided heads. It wasn't a high tackle so he was knocked out as soon as they knocked heads but Mala's one was high," conceded Hansen of Malakai Fekitoa's swinging arm across Simon Zebo for which he was yellow-carded.

“He just needs to have a look at that. It’s clumsy and it’s not the way we want to play. He will be spoken to but it was a physical Test match. That’s what you expect when you get two good sides playing each other. There was plenty of things on both sides. There was neck rolls and all sorts of things going on that were missed and that we could sit and complain about but when you get a physical Test match you get a physical Test match and that’s what it was. No quarter asked and no quarter given.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times