'The TMO undermined the referee' - Five things we learned from Ireland's defeat to the All Blacks
Ireland were beaten 21-9 by New Zealand on Saturday night but it was another superb performance from Joe Schmidt's men.
1. Ireland now a world force
Ireland have re-established themselves as a credible world force after the disappointment of last year’s World Cup.
A debut win in South Africa and a first win in history against the All Blacks means that no longer will Ireland fear anyone in the world game.
It is such a pity that the World Cup is a distant three years away but perhaps not; losing CJ Stander, Robbie Henshaw and Jonathan Sexton undermined Ireland’s chances of completing a notable double.
Ireland are not ready to challenge for a World Cup - not yet anyway.
Joe Schmidt now has three years until the next World Cup to continue the policy which he was forced to confront when a weakened Ireland exited the competition last October.
Ireland’s problem in the last three World Cups has been a reliance on a core group of players but they have suffered in their absence while it has also handicapped their attempts to record significant back-to-back wins.
But they do have real depth and only their finishing - allied to New Zealand’s brilliant defending as well as their clinical chance-taking ability - let them down.
Their bench was not exposed as much as it might have had in previous years and they will continue to build upon this strength.
If they want to seriously challenge in Japan, they need strong back-up in every position and the last 12 months has confirmed the need for Schmidt to continue his policy of trawling Ireland - and elsewhere for players.
2. Switch off by TV officials
This is a recurring chant and rant and not just related to events in the Aviva yesterday.
Caught between their ongoing concern for the welfare of the modern player and the need to ensure the game remains a viewing spectacle, World Rugby has made a comprehensive mess of officiating.
TMO Jon Mason is only supposed to offer counsel to the referee, Jaco Peyper, not provide a definitive voice; yet he did so on two occasions yesterday, first when adjudging Robbie Henshaw’s game-ending collision and then the grounding of Beauden Barrett’s try.
He decided the try by viewing just one angle and confirmed it when asked by the referee; but the referee is the ultimate person in charge so he should make the decision, and not worry about disagreeing with a TMO who is not on-field.
It is a cop-out and the TMO, far from strengthening the referee’s position, has utterly undermined it. His silence when Fekitoa scored after a possible forward pass was deafening given his nonsensical ramblings earlier.
The Henshaw call was a disgrace - since when did World Rugby decree that a shoulder tackle merited a yellow card? And you are allowed to knock-on when stripping a ball so New Zealand were also punished for a disallowed try.
Oh, and the referee had a shocker anyway, which hardly helped.
3. Tullow Tank is back
There was a big call to be made during the week by Joe Schmidt - should he stick or twist with the heroes of Chicago?
Injuries mocked his compelling team selection; he would never have planned to lose three such pivotal member of his side in the opening half - Robbie Henshaw, Jonny Sexton and Cj Stander.
And he would never have planned that Sean O’Brien to play a full 80 minutes; he wanted him to give everything for 50 and the unleash the engine of Josh van der Flier to replicate his stunning display from the bench a fortnight ago.
Best laid plans. O’Brien was immense in the first-half, recovering from an ill-judged attempt to gather the opening restart which, notwithstanding the first of his two turnovers in the half, allowed the away side to establish the early field position for their opening try.
He should have scored himself but was held up off an attacking scrum and he smashed Kieran Read in the tackle. Another turnover confirmed the Tullow Tank is back to his best. Made the ground to allow Ireland get their first score in the second-half.
4. Lineout mis-fire
Ireland needed to be 100% on their three set-pieces - restart, lineout and scrum. Despite the opening restart mess, they were on the money and their scrum eked out a similar advantage to that gained in Chicago.
However, the lineout was a mess; Ireland had four attacking lineouts in the first-half and only won clean possession from one of them as Sam Whitelock returned to challenge in the air to great effect.
In the second-half, after the second sin-binning of the game denied the opposition a player, Ireland again lost the subsequent 5m lineout drive possession; they also had a truck and trailer offence in the first-half. Then a knock-on.
Even an over-throw had to be saved by an incredible Tadhg Furlong take, one-handed. A bad day at the office
5. You don’t beat them twice
It is not coincidence that it is now seven years since New Zealand last lost twice against the same country in the same season - and that against the best Springbok side of the professional era.
Only three times since the sport went open in 1995 have they lost to the same country on successive occasions in the same season.
And two of those three occasions occurred in 1998, against Australia (who won three on the spin) and South Africa, during a campaign most keen observers reckon was the country's professional nadir.
In the entire history of the game, the feat has only been achieved 11 times and by four different teams.
They react well to defeat; their record-breaking winning run was sparked by one; in 2012, they lost to England and then went unbeaten for 22 games.
Ireland, at least, lived to tell the tale after poking the bear.
Although being snuffed out yesterday, they did avoid the fate of two previous Irish sides in recent times, two of whom conceded 40 and 60 points respective after going close to the All Blacks.