Saturday 18 November 2017

A victory yes, but ugliness of this dogfight leaves me cold

Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, is tackled by Rory Kockott, France. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v France. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, is tackled by Rory Kockott, France. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v France. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin.
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

What is rare is wonderful and while it would be unfair to describe Saturday's brutish success over France as winning ugly, it was certainly Les Verts getting the better of Les Bleus in one extremely ugly rugby match.

As I watched this welcome win unfold (and loving the outcome), an old comedy sketch came to mind. Remember the one with the accompanying hit "Nice video, Shame about the Song" as here for sure was a case of "nice victory, shame about the match".

This was everything we expected beforehand. It was intense, it was passionate, it was uncompromising, it was unforgiving, it was ugly, downright ugly. It's horrible where the game has gone.

Bigger, fitter, stronger players looking to squeeze out space; well no, that's not quite true - much more of it is about recycling possession in search of a mismatch between forwards and backs. What a horrible principle.

COURAGE

But like it or loathe it (and I suggest precious few fit the former) this is where rugby, particularly at the highest level, is now at.

This was our second success on the bounce against the French and if pushed on what the high points were for Ireland, I would say courage in defence and I am struggling after that.

There were some very real individual pluses and I will return to them anon but heaven help the game if this is the blueprint for Six Nations rugby in the future.

To their credit, the visitors scored the only try of the match but when their head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, himself a former wing of some attacking substance, condenses it down to "Ireland being better than us until we got the ball and scored a great try" then you know the game has already slipped over the edge.

It's not the keeping of the ball bit - that's spot on - it's the description of a half-decent, workmanlike team try as "great" that betrays a king and a rugby-playing nation that has long since lost its clothes.

Yes, I wallowed like the rest of the island in this latest success, our ninth in a row, particularly so because on balance we deserved it, but I am not going to pretend I enjoyed the journey because I didn't.

How can you possibly enjoy two banks of players running into each other ad nauseam? We employed a little more subtlety and a much more intelligent kick-chase game. In terms of game management, our halves were again top notch with Johnny Sexton imperious in his return to top-class rugby. He was a worthy recipient of man of the match award.

Rob Kearney was again outstanding in the last line with Robbie Henshaw growing in confidence and impact with each game at this level. All 13 forwards (even Iain Henderson in the dying moments) contributed to script, with the original back-row of Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip particularly effective.

My heart went out to Heaslip as Saturday's match officials (TMO too) did the Ireland No 8 and the game a huge disservice. So much for player welfare.

When Pascal Pape's cheap and malicious knee into Heaslip's unprotected back was picked up and reviewed by video on the hour there was but one justifiable outcome; however, Wayne Barnes, Graham Hughes, and by extension the Assistant Referees, reneged on that responsibility.

It is at times like this I wish match officials had played the game at any sort of level to appreciate the malice and forethought (albeit in the moment) for Pape to do what he did.

The French lock gets ten minutes in the bin while the victim is forced from the field. For the referee and TMO to isolate the act and then deem it not worthy of instant dismissal beggars belief.

The least both owe the Ireland No 8 is a personal apology. For the French to have then stolen a result in the final quarter would have been the ultimate travesty.

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