Former All Black Justin Marshall admitted New Zealand got out of jail with Saturday’s victory over Ireland in the Aviva Stadium.
Marshall, now a respected columnist with the New Zealand Herald, felt the All Blacks can count themselves lucky not to have slumped to a second defeat to Joe Schmidt’s men this month.
He wrote: “I’ve been in All Blacks dressing rooms, particularly earlier in my career, where I’ve sat down after a test and gone: ‘How the hell did we win that?’ I think there would have been a similar feeling among the guys. Twenty odd missed tackles is a lot. And it was disconcerting to see one Irish prop brush off three would-be All Blacks tacklers and (Sean) O’Brien do the same. But when tackles had to be made, they were made. When the scrum had to hold, it did. When the lineout had to be won, it was.”
He admitted to being “confused over what (Ireland) were trying to achieve”.
He explained: “There were times when they had the All Blacks on the ropes but left points on the field by taking the soft option. They played very well, no doubt about that. Their domination of possession and territory, and just about every other stat that wins a game, underlined that. But they weren’t as smart and savvy as they were in Chicago and it cost them.”
Marshall had no doubts about the chief reason why New Zealand escaped to victory. “Take Beauden Barrett out of that test match and do the All Blacks still win?”
“The cool-headed No. 10 wasn’t the sole reason we won but he had a damn big say in the final scoreline.
The Herald’s Gregor Paul hit back at those who criticised the legitimacy of the All Black tackling and the accusations of cynicism in Steve Hansen’s team. He said that such attacks are ‘nothing new for the All Blacks’ once the come north of the equator.
He wrote: “History tells him much of what is thrown at the All Blacks is pre-meditated - plenty of Northern rugby followers have a firm view about how New Zealand play and what they are all about.”
He zoned in on Clare McNamara’s spikey interview with Hansen on RTÉ afterwards. “The initial questions about the All Blacks’ discipline were legitimate. The yellow cards had put the All Blacks under pressure and neither could be defended. He obviously felt he had given a valid answer — he was straight down the barrel about the cards... deserved but had the referee been consistent in penalising both sides for the same offences?
“On the tackles that weren’t carded, he felt the issue was more about the speed and intensity of the game — the inevitable consequence of two teams going hard and humans reacting as they could.
“And maybe just as legitimately he felt, because the questions kept coming, that he was in the midst of a witch hunt. He was the ogre in charge of the team of ogres and had to confess all. But as much as there is some sense of conspiracy, so too do the All Blacks have to accept in this part of the world, they have to be more careful than they have been.
“They have to be wary that World Rugby is determined to stop players from hitting around the chest. They have to be extra wary in this part of the world. Anything that looks high will have the crowd wailing and referees panicking.
“The All Blacks are not a dirty team, but they are going to have to work hard to prove that in Paris.”
Hamish Bidwell, writing on stuff.co.nz, felt the heated home reaction was unwarranted. “The All Blacks have won and few people beyond New Zealand’s shores like them because they cheat and whinge and are just too bloody good. You can dice it up any way you like, but New Zealand 21 Ireland 9 was pretty decisive. Ireland are a decent side, but hardly a great one.
“They deserved to beat the All Blacks in Chicago but this Dublin performance wasn’t a good one. Look, it’s a shame Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw was an early casualty, but the shot put on him by Sam Cane was entirely fair. What it did, though, was inflame a few passions — not least in the crowd — and create an environment where any heavy contact from an All Blacks player was going to be unpopular.”
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