Mick Kearney concerned over implementation of high tackle rule
Retiring rugby team manager denies Ireland are whinging after defeat to New Zealand
Irish manager Mick Kearney: “Of 12 incidents that needed looking at [by citing oficer], just one related to Ireland.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
On his last day of addressing the press with team updates, Irish manager Mick Kearney expressed concern about how shortly after World Rugby issued edicts on high tackles above the shoulder, New Zealand escaped with only a yellow card for dangerous play during Saturday’s match in Aviva Stadium.
Kearney, never given to flights of fancy during his five-year tenure with Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt, said the citing officer for the match, Bruce Kulklinski, a Kiwi Canadian, said there were 12 incidents that needed looking at and just one of those related to Ireland.
He added that Ireland should not be seen as a whinging team after defeat and that the Irish management had made no complaints after the match. Kulkinski’s work alone identified the possible transgressions.
“It is disappointing, to be honest,” said Kearney. “There were a number of tackles and bangs around the head. We received the edict from World Rugby in the last week or 10 days and Joe would have sat the squad down, showed them the various footage – including examples of tackles around the head and neck area.
Robbie Henshaw was knocked unconscious, when a flying shoulder from Sam Cane hit his cheek and Simon Zebo was fortunate not to have been seriously injured after a flying tackle from All Black centre, Malakai Fekitoa, caught the Irish winger around the neck and put him on the ground.
“What normally happens is I get introduced to the citing officer before the game and we are given the opportunity to speak to him post game,” said Kearney.
“But we feel it is best left up to the citing officer and his officials to look through the game and to cite where he wants. We actually don’t cite.
“So the citing officer would come to me through his office post the game and he said there were 12 things he wanted to look at and only one related to Ireland.”
Kearney added that there was nothing in the heavily physical way that New Zealand approached the game against Ireland from which the Irish team could learn.
And the fact that the All Blacks won the match does not mitigate in favour of Ireland playing as closely to the edge or over it as New Zealand clearly did at least twice.
Ireland gave away just four penalties when they beat the All Blacks in Chicago. They conceded only four again on Saturday, a testament to discipline and something that coach Joe Schmidt has been labouring since he arrived.
“I thought we were really competitive throughout, so learning from New Zealand on how they approach the game? No absolutely not,” said Kearney. “We have always tried to play the game from within the laws,” he added pointedly.
“If you look at the game in Chicago we gave away four penalties and if you look at the game in the Aviva on Saturday we gave away four penalties. That obviously has massive advantages in terms of us gaining field position and also stopping New Zealand getting field position.
“So no, I don’t think there was anything to be learned from the way they approached the game physically from our point of view.”
The one incident the citing commissioner mentioned that referred to Ireland was a clean-out of Cane at a ruck and Ireland werecleared of any foul play.
“I don’t think we are whinging at all,” said Kearney at the suggestion Ireland might have gone looking for issues to deflect from or excuse the loss.
“I think the facts speak for themselves,” added the manager, who will now make way for former international, St Mary’s centre and scratch golfer, Paul Deane.
“We don’t cite anybody. We don’t make complaints to the citing officer because at the end of the day they have the angles to look at the game. The citing officer has the angles to look at it forensically.”