Sport Rugby

Thursday 17 August 2017

Hugh Farrelly: Kiwi triumph feels like one big put-up job

Hugh Farrelly

SIX days after Ireland's World Cup quarter-final exit, with jet-lag still clogging the eyes and Etihad Airlines lamb stew log-jamming the stomach, taking in a Friday night All-Ireland League fixture seemed like a good way to get back to basics.

Cork Con won a well-contested affair with city rivals Dolphin at a lively Musgrave Park and there was even a spot of half-time entertainment, a rarity at AIL level. This took the form of a charity place-kicking competition that featured some Cork footballing stars of the past (Jimmy Kerrigan) and present (Jimmy's son Paul and fellow All-Ireland winner Paddy Kelly).

The 'star' of the show was 2009 'Apprentice' phenomenon Breffny Morgan, who cut a forlorn figure as he scuffed his kick and sidled off the pitch to a soundtrack of "who's your man again?" enquiries from the crowd.

Once you have experienced the full glare of the spotlight, life can appear particularly dark when it has moved elsewhere and, along with 'The Breffmeister', that has certainly been the case with the Irish team post-World Cup.

For a brief, glorious period, Ireland were the biggest story in world rugby. The victory over Australia placed Declan Kidney and his players front and centre at a tournament that had previously regarded them as unremarkable extras.

Their subsequent dismantling of Italy maintained the buzz and anticipation, which meant the end, when it arrived against an inspired Wales side in the quarter-final, seemed especially sudden and shocking.

Not having a flight home until the Tuesday heightened the agony. "Are you boys still here?" asked a still delirious Welsh journalist when he met members of the Irish media the day after Ireland's demise.

Three weeks on, a deep sense of frustration still lingers and is perhaps the reason for an accompanying sense of disgruntlement at New Zealand's eventual triumph.

Call it bitterness or begrudgery, but the feeling that the whole affair was one big put-up job cannot be dismissed and dates back to 2005, when the tournament was awarded to New Zealand.

In keeping with the IRB's oft-stated policy of expanding rugby globally, the World Cup should clearly have been awarded to Japan who, with superb infrastructure and crowd support, would have made wonderful 2011 hosts.

But deals were done, backs were scratched and the World Cup remained within the comfortable cartel of the 'big eight' -- who have hosted all the tournaments to date and will again in four years' time when England are up once more.

Japan host in 2019 but that is eight years after it should have happened and evidence of the tokenism that exists in relation to Tier 2 countries, whose virtues are constantly extolled while their advancement is hindered by issues such as a ridiculous World Cup fixture list weighted in favour of the established nations.

Home advantage was hugely significant in New Zealand's march to glory -- their record at Eden Park in Auckland is ridiculously good.

Then there was the whole painful, precious haka debate -- an increasingly ridiculous (blond Ali Williams with his tongue out? Please) piece of pre-match pageantry that continues to afford the All Blacks a significant psychological advantage over sides with no comparable response.

Marching

France tried their best by marching towards it and were fined for their troubles.

The refereeing performance of Craig Joubert is another point of contention -- how the French were not awarded a penalty in the last five minutes is a mystery, and New Zealand also got away with a succession of high tackles that would ordinarily be immediately punished.

And, while acknowledging entry into the realms of conspiracy theory, the fact that New Zealand were allowed to wear their black jerseys despite losing the toss for home advantage smells like Killybegs in mackerel season, not to mention the 'winning' Stephen Donald penalty kick.

Since highlighting this issue last Monday, the YouTube clip of Donald's dodgy kick has been removed "due to a copyright claim by the International Rugby Board" but, at time of going to print, an online poll has 72pc of respondents claiming the kick was missed with accompanying footage at http://goo.gl/pxi89.

There is no denying that New Zealand hosted a good World Cup or that the best rugby team won, but there is equally no point in denying that it sticks in the craw.

Irish Independent

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