The ink had barely dried on the World Rugby edict entitled: “Re-focus ordered on dangerous contact with head” as Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt reeled off a list of his players who will this week undergo concussion-related return to play protocols.
With Robbie Henshaw, CJ Stander, and Rob Kearney all facing Head Injury Assessments in the coming days as they bid to prove their fitness to face Australia on Saturday in the final game of this month’s Guinness Series, questions were rightly being asked of the manner in which referee Jaco Peyper had handled the weekend’s astonishingly physical Test match between Ireland and New Zealand.
In a game which saw two All Blacks sin-binned and the world champions concede 14 penalties, several of which were for high tackles, it appears the South African official had not received the memo issued eight days previously regarding his employers’ toughened stance on player safety.
Peyper also ignored continued requests from Irish captain Rory Best to take action during the game as Henshaw left the field on a stretcher following a clash of heads that had been preceded by a high tackle with the shoulder from Sam Cane.
Best was clearly heard on the ref’s mic calling for Peyper to deal with “cheap shots” on his players although he and an obviously frustrated Schmidt walked a more diplomatic line in their post-match dealings with the media, although their sentiments were less opaque.
“We’re obviously looking to control what we can control to make things easier for the referee,” Best said, “we’ll let the assessors deal with it.
“They’re a very physical side, when you sign Kiwis into your club team they hit hard. Anything World Rugby can do to make the game safer... I’m a parent myself and don’t like to see players taken off on stretchers.”
Schmidt was later asked if World Rugby, despite its stated effort to “eliminate dangerous or reckless contact with players’ heads”, was doing enough to protect players.
“It’s not something we control and so all we can do is feed back through the appropriate channels,” the Irish boss 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 as far as we can go in controlling that. And then we’ll try to get on and control what we can.”
Schmidt made it clear he believes no good can come from publicly lambasting officials and the only way Ireland will get a fairer deal from referees would be to continue to use those official, private avenues.
“Being vocal, is that a solution? I don’t know. I think you can be vocal through the appropriate channels. I think 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 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.”
Schmidt’s opposite number Steve Hansen, having gone through a testy post-match TV exchange with RTÉ’s Clare McNamara, continued to be tetchy at the suggestion his players had crossed the line between physical and cynical in order to defeat Ireland. He had seen scrum-half Aaron Smith sin-binned in the first half for persistent ruck infringements before Malakai Fekitoa also saw yellow after the interval for a high arm on Simon Zebo.
“Without seeing the tapes, I can’t say that all the penalties are right or wrong but the ref said they were,” Hansen said.
“He’s seen us make 14 mistakes. The yellow cards — one was for coming around and attacking the half-back, again I can’t argue with it but what I would say is that I would like to see some consistency throughout the same game, because I saw the same things happening to us and no one got penalised, let alone yellow carded. The other yellow card for the high tackle was clumsy. I don’t think it was malicious. It didn’t impede him, he carried on playing. In fact, it didn’t even stop him. You just want consistency and when we look at the tape, we’ll see how consistent it was.”
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