Sport Autumn Internationals

Thursday 18 January 2018

All Black duo Cane and Fekitoa cited over hits in war of attrition

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen greets Rob Kearney after the match. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen greets Rob Kearney after the match. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

All Blacks Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa were last night cited for alleged high tackles during their side's win over Ireland on Saturday and will face disciplinary hearings this week.

Flanker Cane is out of the world champions' final game of 2016 against France this weekend anyway with an ankle injury, but he could face further censure for the tackle that ended Robbie Henshaw's involvement after 11 minutes of the 21-9 win.

Referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Jon Mason decided the offence merited nothing more than a penalty, while New Zealand coach Steve Hansen defended it as a head-to-head collision, but World Rugby will investigate further later this week.

Fekitoa is also under scrutiny for a swinging high tackle on Simon Zebo that saw him receive a yellow card during a tempestuous clash. He returned to the field to score the decisive try.

The Ireland camp's displeasure at the South African's performance was palpable throughout the 21-9 loss as captain Rory Best frequently made his feelings known and vice-captain Jamie Heaslip remonstrated with him at the final whistle. Afterwards, Joe Schmidt chose to keep his counsel.

Before the November internationals, World Rugby issued a diktat on dangerous play which declared that: "[Our] number-one priority is player welfare and the laws of the game clearly state that the necks and heads of players are sacrosanct.

"When it comes to foul play, the game is cleaner now than ever before but referees must constantly be alert to head-high hits. By taking this strong approach, we are saying to players that tackling an opponent above the shoulder line will not go unpunished."

However, Peyper opted for leniency when faced with high tackles throughout Saturday's intense encounter.

Aside from Cane and Fekitoa's efforts, high tackles from Sam Whitelock and a no-arm smash from Israel Dagg that put CJ Stander out of the game with a head injury also went unpunished.

There were also questionable calls on two of New Zealand's tries.

Mason reckoned Beauden Barrett grounded the first despite evidence to the contrary, but Ireland had just escaped a deliberate knock-on from Andrew Trimble and Johnny Sexton's attempted try-saving tackle was high. Both could have resulted in yellow cards and penalty tries.

Ireland have history in this regard with Peyper who chose leniency when refereeing France's win over Schmidt's side in Paris earlier this year, a game in which Sexton and Dave Kearney were the victims of some dangerous play.

The cameras caught Schmidt's displeasure after Cane's hit, but the Ireland coach held his fire after the game and will speak to World Rugby behind closed doors about his frustrations.

"It's not something we control and so all we can do is feed back through the appropriate channels," Schmidt said.

"I think people will make their own decisions about what happened out there because the images are available to everybody.

"People will make their own assessments, we'll make ours and go through the appropriate channels and that's really as far as we can go in controlling that. We'll try to get on and control what we can.

"Being vocal, is that a solution? I don't know. You can be vocal through the appropriate channels. There's always a risk in being outspoken when if you want to effect change you need to have a rapport, you need to engage with people who are making the decisions.

"If you isolate yourself from them then I think you have less access to them and then you potentially have less opportunity to have some sort of discourse to get some answers or to effect change."

Hansen said he would speak to Fekitoa, but reckoned Ireland were themselves no angels.

"That's what you expect when you get two good sides playing each other," he said. "There was plenty of things on both sides; there was neck rolls and all sorts of things going on that were missed and that we could sit and complain about but when you get a physical Test match you get a physical Test match and that's what it was."

Ireland are likely to be without Johnny Sexton (hamstring), Henshaw, Stander and Rob Kearney (all concussion) for this week's game against Australia.

Irish Independent

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