Saturday 24 February 2018

Heaslip: It's a contact sport, and people get hurt

Jamie Heaslip. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

After the high shots, some low blows.

New Zealand will continue to defend their approach to Saturday's bruising Test match which rendered one Irish player unconscious, "knocked out before he hit the ground", one concussed and another displaying concussive symptoms.

The Kiwis are understood to have bowed to the inevitable and will seemingly accept any punishment handed down to Malakai Fekitoa following his second-half tackle on Simon Zebo.

However, they will vigorously contest the citing of Sam Cane for his alleged role in terminating Robbie Henshaw's participation in the game during the first half.

It is believed their defence will alight upon the fact that Henshaw was turning into the tackle after being bumped by another tackle and that the pair merely suffered a head-on collision.

The fact that Ireland manager Mick Kearney pointedly outlined yesterday that the centre landed on the ground unconscious because of a shoulder hitting his jaw will doubtless ensure some lively legal argument.

Jamie Heaslip accepts the risks associated with playing international rugby, ‘it’s a tough bloody game’ he insists. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip accepts the risks associated with playing international rugby, ‘it’s a tough bloody game’ he insists. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

In many ways, the horse has bolted for now; despite World Rugby's much-touted edict about high tackles last week, the citing commissioner -ironically a Kiwi himself - discovered 12 of them in his grisly review of the video nasty.

Only one of them was a potential Irish offence - CJ Stander on Cane - and Ireland's immensely clean disciplinary record of late has, during this particular turf war at least, allowed them to claim the majority of the moral high ground.

The fact that New Zealand were quite prepared to win at all costs - taking advantage of a weak referee - has been viewed by some as an antidote to a less than resourceful, perhaps meekly naive, approach from Ireland.


It is a charge Ireland vigorously - and correctly - deny.

"I think we were bloody physical ourselves," said Kearney. "I certainly wouldn't let a couple of incidents spoil that for us.

"We have always tried to play the game from within the laws. If you notice over the last few years, and in particular since Joe Schmidt took over, we have been very disciplined.

"It's one thing he drives home to the squad on a very regular basis, and if you look at the game in Chicago we gave away four penalties and if you look at the game in the Aviva on Saturday we gave away four penalties."

Both teams would have received the edict during the week from World Rugby regarding the clampdown on head-high tackles - as if one should be required were it refereed properly - and, so it appears, only one side adhered to it.

"It is disappointing to be honest," agreed Kearney. "There were a number of tackles and bangs around the head.

"We received the edict from World Rugby in the last week or 10 days and Joe would have sat the squad down, showed them the various footage - including examples of tackles around the head and neck area.

"World Rugby had said, if these incidents occur, then you are liable to a red card possibly. That obviously didn't happen at the weekend. We felt that wasn't the case."

Read more: Comment - The defeat in Chicago was a stain on New Zealand's soul and they were right to sock it to Ireland

Read more: The Left Wing: 'It was really cynical play' - Luke Fitzgerald analyses Ireland's controversy-ridden loss to the All Blacks

There was also the argument that such a surfeit of citings did not reflect well on the match-day officials but, understandably, the Irish camp are unwilling to go there.

"I wouldn't say that," said Kearney. "The citing commissioner has the advantage of different views.

"He's got time, 24 hours post-game to look through the game forensically. I think it is very difficult for a ref to pick up everything on the spot. It does depend on his TMO, his assistant referees to pick these up as well."

Jamie Heaslip has taken some heavy punishment on the field before but does not share the concern of some that his sport is going to hell in a hand-cart.

"It's a contact sport, people get hurt. I am not concerned at all. You enter the game knowing there is a risk. It's a physical game, you know," he said. "You hope everyone who's involved in the game is putting things in place to make sure they're looking after you."

"We're given the guidance from our coaches, who get it from World Rugby or the referees. We play to the best of our ability within those rules. It's a physical game, a dynamic game. It's ever-moving, ever-evolving. People make mistakes.

"Sometimes someone gets a shot in the head. A lad falls on you, you get a knee in the head. All sorts of things can happen, you know what I mean.

"I'm not going to hide the fact that it's a physical sport. You're running into someone!

"Physics dictates there's going to be impact, there's going to be force and sometimes lads get banged up.

"I've been playing professional rugby now for 11 years and the approach to injury and whatever it is with the body, has drastically changed in that time.

"As a player that's what you hope for. As a player you enter the game knowing there is a bit of risk to it.

"If it was easy everyone would be playing it but it's not. It's a tough bloody game."

Heaslip's last assertion, at least, is something that everyone can agree on.

Irish Independent

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