Kidney left bewildered at breakdown interpretation
Published 14/03/2010 | 05:00
Sooner or later, it was going to happen. The southern hemisphere referees attempting to clean up and sort out, once and for all, the messy technical areas that have blighted the game in the northern hemisphere, have been like an army of cleaners waiting to get started.
Yesterday, they got their whistles out and blasted away. By the time the South African officials Craig Joubert (at Croke Park) and Marius Jonker (at Murrayfield) had finished, they'd left a trail of bewildered players and coaches in their wake.
Most surprising of all was that it was Ireland coach Declan Kidney who led the counter-attack on behalf of the northern hemisphere. Kidney spoke critically of the decision to introduce a stricter interpretation at the breakdown halfway through the Six Nations.
"I met Craig (Joubert) yesterday," said Kidney. "He was good enough to meet us and he explained what was going to happen at the breakdown and that is exactly what happened. So you can't ask any more from a referee I think, in terms of him doing what he said he would do at the breakdown.
"There was a change of emphasis, I felt, from previous Six Nations matches, but we had a meeting with Paddy O'Brien (the IRB's referee co-ordinator). It was emphasised that one section of the law is in law and that was being emphasised to the detriment of other aspects of law, in making the breakdown area a contest. So in terms of Craig, he had a good game. I think he is a top-class referee.
"But I think there is another possible discussion to be had because following that conversation I said with Paddy O'Brien, we are in mid-competition and changing the emphasis on something in mid-competition seems extraordinary, especially a competition the size of the Six Nations."
For those of us who have seen the southern hemisphere's Super 14 in the flesh already this season, we knew what was coming. But we never imagined it would suddenly be introduced on week four of the Six Nations. That was plain daft.
But the referees and law makers are correct, too. They are determined to use the strict letter of the law to stop players sealing off opposition possession or slowing it down at the breakdown. This tactic has meant the game, especially in the northern hemisphere but by no means just in this part of the world, has atrophied.
A proper sorting out of this mess was long overdue. But it should have been introduced from this June, at the start of the northern hemisphere teams' tours to the southern hemisphere.
Yet there was another equally important message that came out of this match. The solid streak of professionalism that runs through the heart of this Irish team and defines it as one of the northern hemisphere's finest, was emphasised by an extraordinary defensive performance from Brian O'Driscoll's men.
Wales made an incredible 187 passes yet achieved just one line-break, statistics which spoke of an amazing consistency by the Irish defence as well as high concentration levels. Did that not please O'Driscoll as much as the three tries his team scored on the day? "Definitely," he said. "All performances are based, first and foremost, on your defence and you will find that in certain circumstances, it is the catalyst to tries. If you can create tries from your defensive performance and not just rely solely on your attacking game, that gives you added impetus in the game and it's definitely something we have targeted, more so after the French game because we conceded a few tries in that game.
"People individually and collectively went away (after Paris) and looked at the performances, including myself, and wanted to put that right. I felt that (in this match) even when we were broken, our ability to scramble and our work ethic really stood by us. That is one of the most pleasing things because we try and be a very hard-working team and certainly defensively we felt that was the case today."
There was also a confession from O'Driscoll about his own almost dismissive attitude in the week of the 100 caps achievement which he reached at Croke Park yesterday. Wasn't it really a different game from his point of view?
"Yes, it was a different game from my point of view. A different feeling . . . probably more emotional than I thought it would be. It was a fantastic feeling; a massive, massive honour for me to have played for my country 100 times. The reception on the way out was just an extra on winning the game today."