Owen Doyle: Luke Pearce had a solid performance despite inappropriate use of ‘mate’

Pearce stayed calm throughout a tense affair but caused confusion around Carbery’s kick

 Luke Pearce shows a yellow card to Codie Taylor of New Zealand. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Luke Pearce shows a yellow card to Codie Taylor of New Zealand. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

 

“There’ll be days like this. When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit . . . there’ll be days like this.” Van Morrison.

Very hard to put it any better. It was epic, brilliant, terrific, amazing. Take your pick, in fact, pick all of them. Every single player, and not forgetting the coaches, played a magnificent part in a victory for the ages.

And if Ireland hadn’t left the barn door wide open at the end of a lineout to let in the softest of test tries, then it would have been quite a thumping handed out to New Zealand. The three match test series in the land of the long white cloud next summer is already whetting the appetite, they will be waiting, make no mistake. This defeat will need avenging.

It’s really unnecessary to pick out ‘best’ performances, but the snappy, fast passing of Jamison Gibson-Park was an important turn-key to the positive play behind the pack. And then, of course, Tadhg Furlong, mixing bulldozing runs with some great, if very un-prop like, offloads.

There’ll be determination in this Irish team to ensure that Saturday was not as good as it gets

He was also unlucky that his try was chalked off. Yes, Rónan Kelleher had made a double movement, but it was outside protocol for the TMO Tom Foley to become involved, which he did. Likewise, too, New Zealand lost a Akira Ioane try to a very marginal forward pass decision after the officials had studied the footage long and hard. A square on camera was necessary to give us the real answer to that one.

As with most rugby victories, the battle was won up front. As a unit, the forwards were superb to a man. Ireland retained possession for long, long periods and that produced a hugely lop-sided tackle count, the wrong side of which no team could hope to emerge as winners.

The choice of running and passing was mingled with a clever tactical kicking game, suddenly putting the ball in behind the New Zealander’s defensive line, and turning their mighty pack.

Bit by bit, slowly, a very rare sense of bewildered inevitability seemed to envelop the visitors as the end game approached, there seemed to be no answer. But never say never with these guys, as we have learnt to our cost in the past. Ireland were not safely ashore until Joey Carbery pushed the points difference from six to nine with the final penalty kick, only sixty seconds remained.

As ever, there are some referee issues to discuss and explain. It is a truism that player errors never get the same forensic media analysis, but that’s life. History shows that the referee never gets away so easily.

First off, in a match of extraordinary intensity, Luke Pearce stayed very calm throughout, and in some difficult situations. Johnny Sexton was rightly riled up after he was the victim of a cheap, off the ball shot, from Ethan Blackadder.

It was late, and Sexton, having just received lengthy treatment for a knee injury was a lot less than amused. It really needed a good TMO review, which, very surprisingly, it didn’t get. And it seemed an easy yellow card to give, more so than the one handed out to Codie Taylor.

Overall, Pearce had a reasonable performance, but has a needless propensity for talking more than is necessary. His use of first names has, unfortunately, been added to by calling players “mate,” which nobody will be able to persuade me is appropriate.

Later, as Sexton left the pitch and Carbery came on, there was a lengthy discussion as to whether he could take the just awarded penalty kick. Pearce informed us that if Sexton had left for a HIA, then Carbery could, but if it was tactical, then, no, he couldn’t. But hang on, there is no such exclusion to be found in the law - it didn’t matter, but it will some day. World Rugby must surely clarify to all teams ‘what’s what’ in this situation, and maybe let the rest of us know too.

There’ll be days like this featured on the soundtrack for Jack Nicholson’s Oscar winning performance in As Good as it Gets. There’ll be determination in this Irish team to ensure that Saturday was not as good as it gets, rather they’ll want to use it as their performance baseline and push on from here. Here’s hoping.

Another definite diary date is March 12th, when Ireland travel to Twickenham to play England in what is bound to be an explosive cracker of a match.

On Saturday, Eddie Jones did pick Marcus Smith at outhalf, and the young man did add the expected extra dimension. He has an uncanny knack of finding space which does not seem to have been there in the first place. His movement with ball in hand makes defenders doubt themselves.

His shimmy, suggestion of a dummy-pass, and then off-load to the excellent Freddie Steward for England’s first try, was a magical piece of space creation. In a match which never came even close to reaching the heights of events at the Aviva, England won by 32-15, with two tries, while Australia never crossed for one of their own.

Wales v Fiji was all helter and skelter, it was terrific stuff with the islanders giving so much to the match. And this despite a red card in the 25th minute, and several other yellows. They spent far too much time with 13 players and Wales took full advantage. The TMO, Stuart Terheege, was correct to steer referee Nic Berry, initially seemingly reluctant, to the ‘red’ for Eroni Sau.

Whatever Sau was thinking at the time it couldn’t have been very much, his needless forceful forearm to the face of Johnny Williams, after the Fijian had completed his tackle, was crass. If Fiji had kept fifteen, maybe even fourteen, on the pitch for the whole match, the final score might very well have been in their favour. Late Welsh tries put an undeserved gloss on the result, 38-23.

So far, although New Zealand just might not agree, it’s been a terrific Autumn series. Roll on the week-end, roll on Ireland.

PS Fresh air, I needed some. After a long, leisurely, Friday afternoon spent in the company of good friends, thank you all, I took myself off to the Belfield Bowl for the Noel Turley Memorial match, Blackrock College v St. Michael’s College. ‘Rock are on the rise with this team, winning 20-14.

There was much amusing, friendly banter in the packed-out stand, but the incessant barracking of hookers as they prepared their lineout throws could not be called sporting. On a lovely sunny morning, a wonderful occasion, we could have done without it.

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