21 Nov 2016

If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying

9:32 am on 21 November 2016

Opinion - Revenge is sweet, but the All Blacks 21-9 win will be a bitter pill to swallow for Irish fans.

Despite scoring three tries to none and fronting up with a vastly improved defensive effort from that in Chicago two weeks ago, the biggest talking point of this game will be the All Blacks discipline, or lack thereof.

Aviva Stadium, Dublin 19/11/2016
Ireland vs New Zealand
New Zealand's Malakai Fekitoa celebrates with Israel Dagg and Anton Lienert-Brown after scoring a try

Malakai Fekitoa celebrates with Israel Dagg and Anton Lienert-Brown after scoring a try. Photo: Photosport

Referee Jaco Peyper lived up to his name, playing a tune of 19 penalties in the game.

Fourteen of those went the way of the men in green, while two resulted in yellow cards for Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa.

Head high tackles seemed de rigueur for the All Blacks, as was pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable at the ruck.

Missed the game? Check it out here.

But it ended up being a relatively comfortable win. The aforementioned disregard for the rules, combined with stunning line speed, set the platform to shut the Irish out of the game.

This was the All Blacks - a team these days renowned for sparkling attacking play and general up-tempo rugby - at their old-school, cynical best.

Just have a look at the scorelines from Northern Hemisphere tours in the amateur era, sure the game was different back then but the All Blacks of old rolled into Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff and London to win, not make friends.

They certainly didn't make any in the 80 minutes of action on Aviva Stadium.

While most of the angst from Irish fans and media has already been directed at Peyper, the All Blacks head-hunting and gamesmanship went a long way to undoing the goodwill created by the gracious acceptance of the defeat in Chicago.

In the often nonsensical world of professional wrestling, there were historically two types of characters: faces and heels. A face would be the good guy, playing by the rules and getting his wins in clean, entertaining fashion. Heels, on the other hand, would employ low, dirty tactics. Hitting the other guy with a chair while the ref wasn't looking etc. If a good guy were to turn into a bad guy, they'd call it a 'heel turn', and that's exactly what the All Blacks did on the weekend.

Well Ireland, that's how a ruthless world championship team operates, and you'd do well to learn from it.

Rugby union, for the most part, is a game that rewards cunning and guile. The All Blacks are renowned for it - in fact, arguably the greatest of them all, Richie McCaw, was as well known for his ability to get away with otherwise illegal play than anything else he did on a rugby field.

It's also a game of physical intimidation. While Fekitoa's head high tackle was a yellow in anyone's books, there wasn't much wrong with the hit Sam Cane put on Robbie Henshaw to end the Irish midfielder's night. If anything, it should be the All Blacks pleading foul over that call, given that Ireland ended up with an undeserved penalty as a result of that play. Ditto Johnny Sexton's swinging arm on Beauden Barrett as the All Black first five scored his rather debatable try.

While it was a very physical, often brutal encounter, this test probably won't stand the test of time in terms of memorability. Although there were some flashy moments, like Fekitoa's second try and Irish flanker Josh van der Flier's fantastic performance, it was mostly won by rush defence and Ireland's inability to take their chances.

However, it will stand as a reminder to what happens to teams that make the All Blacks angry - the next time they won't just beat you, they'll beat you up as well.

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