Subscriber OnlyRugby

Owen Doyle: Japan win was refreshing but All Blacks will bring the heat

The intensity brought by New Zealand in Saturday’s Test will be off the Richter scaler

Don't expect it next week, when New Zealand breeze into this neck of the woods. But we've just seen that it can be done.The Aviva Stadium saw Ireland and Japan deliver a game of rugby without any serious foul play, no take-outs in the air, no dangerous high hits.

The intensity was low but, nevertheless, it was refreshing - as was the performance of Georgian referee, Nika Amashukeli. A calm demeanour, only speaking when necessary, and leaving out the gratuitous use of first names. While he has plenty of presence, he succeeded in going about his business almost unnoticed. And, while that might sound like one, it is not an oxymoron.

In fact, what a good weekend it was for the referees, they can be pretty pleased all round with their performances, and they all seemed prepared to take the lead at TV review time, and not let the TMO dictate matters. It was a refreshing change which must continue, and it is a good, important breakthrough for them, and their boss at World Rugby, Joel Jutge.

Johnny Sexton looked fresh and enthusiastic enough to suggest that he was celebrating just his 10th cap, instead of his wonderful 100th. If it had been only the 10th, we would all be nodding sagely, and forecasting a long and enduring future for the relative newcomer. However, the reality is that the current lack of such a newcomer at outhalf is a serious flaw in the team's planning. It may well come with a very costly price tag, both in the medium and long term.

Sexton, of course, will be the first to know that he will face a ferociously committed New Zealand defence. It will be a horse of a completely different colour, the intensity level will be off the Richter scale. It will not be easy, and will be so completely different from what we have just seen.

The Japanese presented Sexton with a ceremonial Samurai sword after the match. It was a brilliantly thought out gesture, a demonstration of the very high esteem in which he is held, even by opponents. Neither he, nor any Ireland supporter, will wish that he falls on that sword for quite some time to come.

Massive challenge

Ireland gave a performance where everything worked. They were excellent, ultra-fast handling and belief in what they were doing brought a massive tally of 60 points, including nine tries. In Rome, the New Zealand second string - while not at all a smooth purring machine - still crossed for seven tries against Italy. With their big guns back, they will present Ireland with a massive challenge in every department.

Japan, with precious few matches since the World Cup, were almost benign, passive, a mere shadow of what we saw just two years ago. It's not hard to hazard a guess that Ireland would have preferred a more serious challenge in preparation for what's coming down the track on Saturday. English referee Luke Pearce will be the man in the middle.

Wales against South Africa was compelling. Played in near impossible conditions, torrential rain poured down incessantly. Despite all the other showpiece tries on offer elsewhere, this was an immense contest despite the rain-dictated kicking and goes to show that a one-try match can sometimes have the most appeal. Again, it was the sheer might of the Springbok pack which just about swung the result. Wales obviously wanted to move the ball about, and, with a non-Covid closed roof, they may well have snuck it.

Referee Paul Williams might consider delaying his advantage-penalty signal for somewhat longer, several penalties could easily have been avoided. He made a huge decision, a tricky one, disallowing a South African try for players within 10 metres and explained his rationale well. But those players did not interfere, were put onside very quickly and seemed to try to retreat. If that had cost South Africa the match, would the Erasmus Hour have returned to our screens?

There was yet another, this time near-calamitous , security breach as a spectator, all to easily, made his way on to the pitch. By a stroke of good luck neither he, or any player, was injured as Wales mounted a dynamic attack very close to where he was grounded by security officials. All unions and stadiums will, we can be certain, be taking a microscopic look at their arrangements.

Twickenham: The Tongan national anthem is a hymn of rare beauty, check it out if you missed it. But after that was sung, it was all downhill as England ran absolute riot, a 69-3, 11 try, drubbing. You really have to ask, what on earth was the point?

Marcus Smith

England's outhalf stocks are is in rude health, particularly compared to the Irish situation. They have at least three options - all of which look like they can do a job. Young Marcus Smith, the Harlequins outhalf, is really growing into the role and it can't be long before he wears more than the replacement number.

Tonga were not slow to put in some cheap shots, and one take out in the air on Jonny May by Solomone Kata got yellow in strict accordance with the written protocol. But it was one heck of a dunt and May's head, which did not hit the ground first, certainly banged down very hard after he had landed.

Villiami Fine then came on as a Tongan replacement and promptly put himself about the place. In the same play he delivered a high tackle, then shunted his elbow into Smith's chin as the latter lay on the ground. Smith was fortunately okay and went on to play brilliantly. Eddie Jones now has a decision to make - start Smith against Australia or not. It's surely a simple decision. Start him.

Argentina are nothing like the force they used to be, having been Ireland's nemesis at several World Cups. France have great hopes of their own for 2023, but still became involved in a very tetchy opening first half. They have to avoid being provoked and just carry on with their game plan. France were the better team but only contrived to get that vital two score advantage very much in the latter stages - just as well, because Argentina crossed for a final late try, getting to within only a converted try of the French total .

A last minute penalty to France gave them a flattering 29-20 win; they should have been able to have the result much earlier. That’s something they’ll need to do, if they are to deliver the World Cup in ‘23.

Over at Murrayfield Scotland squeezed passed Australia. There was much excitement but also much huffing and puffing. The match also signalled the end of the long and illustrious international career of referee Romain Poite. Chapeau, Romain!