Ireland in New Zealand: Team of the Tour

Ireland in New Zealand: Team of the Tour

We are one week on from that historic day that saw Ireland ear their first series victory over the Kiwis in New Zealand. A fantastic 3-Test series saw the Irish recover from a disappointing defeat to make history 2 weeks running to win the series 2-1, while the wider squad also got plenty of rugby during the tour with a 2-match series against the Maori All Blacks, which ended 1-1.

And so, as we spend this period after the Summer Tours patiently waiting for the beginning of the Rugby Championship,it’s time to look back over the tour to create my combined XV. Now this one will be a little different, as I have made the executive decision to base this on all 5 matches rather than just the Test series.

Who do you think should have made the XV? Let me know in the comments below.



My combined XV from Ireland’s 5-match tour of New Zealand is:

1) Andrew Porter: Oh how the All Blacks miss Joe Moody. In his absence, George Bower got the start in all 3 Tests… and if you’ve watched Squidge Rugby’s video on the 2ⁿᵈ and 3ʳᵈ Tests, you’ll know how poor his performances were! In contrast, Porter continues to play at a high level after moving over from the tighthead side. He may still have room for improvement at the scrum and should arguably have received a red card for his high tackle on Brodie Retallick, but in the loose he remains an important player in both directions, and carried well for an important early try in the 2ⁿᵈ Test.

2) Dan Sheehan: It was a quiet series for Codie Taylor as New Zealand struggled to create anything in attack. Sheehan meanwhile completely outplayed his more experienced opponents, being solid at the set piece and being an ever-willing carrier in the loose, with some clever footwork helping to beat the defenders. With Rónan Kelleher currently out injured, this Test series may have just given Sheehan the advantage in the race for the #2 jersey.

3) Tadhg Furlong: Maybe not the most notable performances from the Leinster tighthead, but he was solid and reliable all around the park, which is more than can be said for the All Blacks’ options.

4 & 5) Tadhg Beirne & Kieran Treadwell: Regular readers will know that I’ve been championing Beirne since his Scarlets days, but now his quality is becoming impossible to ignore even in the biggest Test matches. Solid and reliable all around the park, he put in some great carries to help get the Irish on the front foot, but really stood out in defence. If he wasn’t stopping the All Blacks with a tackle before the gain line, he was getting in with the jackal to win a crucial turnover or penalty. Became a one-man defensive behemoth late in the 3ʳᵈ Test, with a interception and a series of successful jackals stopping consecutive attacks. As for his partner, Kieran Treadwell gets the nod here after some solid performances against the Maori All Blacks, while he immediately acclimatized to the game when coming on late in the defensive efforts to finish off the crucial 3ʳᵈ Test.

6) Peter O’Mahony: A few times I have wondered if O’Mahony was past it and taking up a spot in the 23 that would be better suited to a young player who could benefit from gaining more experience. But these last few weeks saw him play arguably some of the best rugby of his career. Gains bonus points if his supposed dig at Sam Cane is true.

7) Josh van der Flier: Is he one of the most underrated players in world rugby? Ultra-reliable and constantly in the right place to make a tackle, he also appears to have added a bit more of a carrying game, just adding another bow to his quiver.

8) Ardie Savea: Probably one of the hardest spots to pick, and Caelan Doris is very unlucky to miss out, but Savea was one of the few positives for the All Blacks during this series. Has pace, power, good handling and a good rugby IQ. One of only a few players who frequently looked dangerous or caused Ireland issues, New Zealand were certainly hit hard by losing him in the 2ⁿᵈ Test.

9) Jamison Gibson-Park: If we were basing on just 1 match, Aaron Smith’s 1ˢᵗ Test was the most impressive performance, but he struggled to make an impact in the other 2. Gibson-Park may not have had such a stand-out performance but consistently kept the ball moving quickly form the base of the ruck to keep the All Blacks on the back foot.

10) Johnny Sexton: Like O’Mahony it recently looked like Sexton may be past his best but he was vital on this tour. Led the attack as he usually does, while his leadership was spot on. You just have to look at the way Ireland fell apart after his injury in the 1ˢᵗ Test to see how important he is to this team.

11) James Lowe: A quick shout-out to Connor Garden-Bachop, who looked dangerous going forward in both matches for the Maori All Blacks. Instead it was the former Maori All Black who gets the nod here. Like some other players on this list, he may have put in more spectacular performances in the past, but he was reliable both on offence and defence, and took his moments well to assist the Irish when going forward.

12) Bundee Aki: Came off the bench and impressed in the first 2 Tests after a solid first match against the Maori All Blacks, and took advantage of Garry Ringrose’s head injury to get a deserved start in the deciding 3ʳᵈ Test. Carried hard and with great lines to put the All Blacks on the back foot.

13) Robbie Henshaw: Split his time between 12 and 13 depending as to if he was partnering Bundee Aki or Garry Ringrose, but the quality of his performances never faltered. Did what was required in attack while helping to marshall the Irish defence..

14) Will Jordan: One of only 2 All Blacks to make the list, what makes it even more impressive is that Jordan does so from 1 start and one appearance off the bench. Jordan knows how to make finding and exploiting a gap look easy and was one of the few players to have any success against the Irish defence.

15) Hugo Keenan: What impresses me so much about Keenan is just how well he does the basics. He so rarely makes mistakes and then builds off that to produce an accomplished performance with regularity. Completely outplayed Jordie Barrett, despite the latter also being the All Blacks’ goal kicker.

New Zealand v Ireland: The 2022 Decider

New Zealand v Ireland: The 2022 Decider

Ireland’s 2022 tour of New Zealand came to an end with a final Test against the All Blacks. The 3-Test series was tied at 1-1, with 2 games against the Maori All Blacks leaving the tour balanced at 2-2, so this third Test in Wellington would truly be the decider.

The All Blacks had not lost consecutive Tests at home in over 20 years but they found themselves under pressure from the off,, and when captain Sam Cane tackled Josh van der Flier off the ball, Ireland kicked to the corner and mauled the Leinster openside over for the opening try within 4 minutes. In a tight first half that saw an error-strewn performance from the Kiwis, Jordie Barrett missed the chance to narrow the gap with an early penalty, but was more successful with his second attempt early in the second quarter. The Irish looked to be dealing with the All Blacks, and took a chance to hit them on 28 minutes as they found some space down the blind side, James Lowe getting in behind the line then feeding Hugo Keenan for the try, Sexton kicking the conversion before adding a long-range penalty just minutes later. The Irish were beginning to dominate the game, while the All Blacks were falling apart, and some quick hands from the men in green sent Robbie Henshaw over just minutes before the break, Sexton adding the extras to take him over 1000 points in Test rugby and Ireland to a 3-22 lead at the break.

The All Blacks started the second half in much better fashion, and after 3 minutes of concerted pressure, Ardie Savea stretched out to get a much-needed early try. Any hopes that this would spark a comeback by the All Blacks were given an extra spark as Andrew Porter was sent to the bin on 51 minutes for a high tackle on Brodie Retallick, and New Zealand quickly took advantage of the extra man to send Akira Ioane—only starting after Scott Barrett pulled out injured earlier in the day—for his first ever Test try. A Sexton penalty provided some respite for the Irish while crucially taking things back to a two-score game, but an attempt from halfway just minutes later rebounded off the post, and as both teams looked to re-find their shape, Ardie Savea’s inside pass released Will Jordan to go the length and score, Jordie Barrett’s conversion just missing as Porter returned to the pitch. back to a full complement, Ireland were back on the attack and some lovely timing on the pass from Hugo Keenan sent the rampaging Bundee Aki up to the 5m line, where Ardie Savea was pinged at the breakdown, and like in the opening minutes, the men in green kicked to the corner and set up Rob Herring to peel off the maul and stretch to the line, Sexton’s conversion making it a 10-point game with 15 minutes remaining. Rugby league convert Roger Tuivasa-Sheck came on for his debut with 10 minutes remaining and with the All Blacks set to have a scrum in the Irish 22, but a strong shove from the Irish pack made things awkward for New Zealand, who soon wasted their opportunity as Sam Whitelock caught Tadhg Beirne with a neck roll at the breakdown, allowing the Irish to clear their lines, while turnovers from Beirne brought an end to the next 2 attacks just moments later. With just 5 minutes left, Sexton hobbled off to be replaced by Joey Carbery, while Beirne was also removed for Kieran Treadwell, but the defence held firm to secure a 22-32 victory on the night, an historic 2-1 series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand and a 3-2 series win for the overall tour.

Clueless

I may have only got into rugby 20 years ago, and it may have been only 12 years ago that I became obsessed and started watching too much rugby (is there such thing?), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a poor All Blacks team.

In attack, they are panicking and going for the miracle pass or kick far too early, rather than going through the phases and putting the Irish under pressure, letting the space create itself… and that’s when they aren’t gifting the Irish with handling errors—has an All Blacks team ever struggled so much to even just hold onto the ball?—or moronic penalties, such as Beauden Barrett cleaning players out beyond the breakdown and Sam Whitelock’s neck roll. Granted they improved somewhat i the second half but they still rarely looked like scoring against 15 men and were constantly seeing their attack impacted by the Irish defence, with many of their tries requiring a moment of individual brilliance.

The side has been stagnating and falling apart under Ian Foster throughout his tenure, put in terms of the individual players, the quality is still there. Thanks to the stupidly early draws for the Rugby World Cup, we find ourselves in a position where only 2 of our current 4 top-ranked nations (New Zealand, Ireland, France, South Africa) can make it past the quarter-finals, and right now it’s hard to imagine that even the most biased Kiwi fans could genuinely believe that they would be one of them. This loss needs to be the catalyst for change, starting with the removal of Ian Foster (if he is not smart enough to step down himself) and the rapid appointment of a replacement—Scott Robertson being the obvious candidate— who can use the upcoming Rugby Championship as a chance to take stock of what he has and start building combinations. If they move soon, there may still be time to make the All Blacks competitive again in time for the World Cup.

The next mission

What a moment for Ireland. They were arguably the better team for much of the first Test, but fought back from disappointment to make history 2 weeks running, with a first Test win in New Zealand and now a first series win in New Zealand. They should rightly be proud of their achievements this summer.

However, now they have an even more important (and potentially more difficult) task: maintaining his level of performance and intensity for another year and a half, through to the end of the World Cup. The idea of Ireland peaking a year out from the World Cup and then going downhill in the major tournament is not a new one, an therefore Andy Farrell and the Irish leadership have a colossal task on their hands.

As mentioned above, the World Cup draw has left them on the wrong side of the knockouts and facing either France or New Zealand in the quarter finals (on current form, I would expect it to be France), and so this means that they will need to be at the top of their game to even make the semi-finals for the first time.

As great as the team will feel right now, the team cannot rest on their laurels and must look to continue pushing on. If they can, 2023 may become an even more historic year for them than 2022 has ended up becoming.

rugby new zealand crest black background

Maori All Blacks v Ireland

Maori All Blacks v Ireland

With Ireland’s Test series against New Zealand still all to play for following the weekend’s historic win in Dunedin, it was time for the wider squad to get another match with their second game against the Maori All Blacks. With tricky conditions courtesy of heavy rain just before kickoff, the Maori All Blacks forced an Irish error with a clever kickoff along the floor and quickly ut the pressure on the tourists, scoring off the first phase of a lineout as their support looped around to create an overlap and put Shaun Stevenson over in the corner. Perhaps emboldened by their early success, the Maori All Blacks looked willing to play form anywhere but gave away a lineout just outside their 22 when Alex Nankivell’s pass went astray, but captain Keith Earls took a quick throw to Jordan Larmour, whose run from deep saw him scythe through the Maori All Blacks defence before they even realised that the ball was back in play, going under the posts to give Ciarán Frawley a simple conversion. The home side were soon back on the attack though and looked set to score with a huge overlap in the Irish 22, only for Tyrel Lomax to knock on a pass that died on him. The home team were dominating possession but a lack of accuracy was causing them issues, and after Fraley extended Ireland’s lead with a penalty, the next Irish attack saw Gavin Coombes held up on the line, despite the Irish being a man down following a yellow card to Cian Prendergast. However, a penalty gave the Irish another chance and while they were stopped again, it was at the expense of a yellow car for Maori loosehead Ollie Norris for collapsing the maul, and with the game now 14v14, Nick Timoney managed to stretch out and dot the ball down over the line. The Irish were almost immediately under pressure after some great counterrucking saw the ball turned over to Caleb Delany—on early for the injured Reed Prinsep—whose break took him deep into the Irish 22, but Ireland were lucky to get away with a turnover as Maori captain TJ Perenara had his arm pulled away by a man who was part of the ruck, and as the halftime whistle sounded, the Irish went in with a 5-17 lead.

Frawley opened the scoring early in the half with a penalty, but the Maoris were soon back on the attack and when Delany broke down the left wing and played the ball back inside to Connor Garden-Bachop was pulled back by Jordan Larmour before he caught the ball, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card for the Irish wing. As the match entered the final quarter, Joey Carbery was brought on for Michael Lowry after the fullback was injured in a hard but legal tackle from Stevenson, but the Irish had the momentum as the home team continued to give away a number of penalties, and after a few minutes of concerted pressure, Coombes forced his way over from close range to make the score 12-25 with 12 minutes remaining. The home team refused to give up though and when Ruben Love countered a loose kick and broker away, he fed Cullen Grace out on the win, and the Crusader’s offload back inside went back to Love, who narrowed the gap to 8, Josh Ioane’s conversion attempt looking ugly and going nowhere near the posts. With 8 minutes left, Stevenson took a risk going for a Carbery pass one-handed and failed to gather, and was sent to the bin for the remainder of the game, and the Irish took advantage of the man advantage to seal the game with 3 minutes remaining as a whipped pass from Stuart McCloskey sent Larmour over for his second try of the night. As the hooter sounded, another break from Love sent Brad Weber over for a consolation, and Ioane finally found his kicking boots right in front of the posts for a final score of 24-30.

Overplayed

Did the Maori All Blacks get their tactics wrong today in Wellington? While Ireland tried to play a more territory-focused game and only play rugby in the opposition half, the Maori All Blacks looked determined to play from anywhere on the pitch.

Now the decision was somewhat understandable, as they were frequently carrying over the gain line in midfield—Delany especially standing out with his—and finding the space to exploit to break and put the Irish under pressure. However they were far too inaccurate, with too many balls going to floor at crucial moments, such as the Lomax knock-on in the Irish 22 with numbers outside him, or players getting isolated and turned over in dangerous areas.

Of course, the conditions in the build-up wouldn’t have helped things, with some heavy rainfall right before kickoff. But there is also the matter that this is a team that rarely plays together. Matches are infrequent, usually just a couple a year, and as such the wider squad is usually used, resulting in a team that is currently looking different—and that is before you even account for who is available or not due to All Blacks selection!

While the Maori All Blacks have gone out to give the fans a match to remember and looked to showcase their skills, the lack of pragmatism has likely cost them a potential 2-0 series win here.

Solid success

This was a workmanlike performance from the players on the fringe of the Irish squad. The defence may have been breached on many occasions, but they tightened up in the red zone and crucially kept their discipline (though they certainly got the rub of the green at a couple of crucial breakdowns) and this forced the Maoris to play without the help of a penalty advantage.

Meanwhile with ball in hand, the Irish made sure that they were playing in the right areas of the pitch, which allowed them to focus on using the physicality of McCloskey at 12 and their pack to try to force their way over the line, with the skills of players like Larmour and Lowry then there to take advantage of the gaps this left out wide. But more than this it also allowed the Irish defence to put pressure on the Maoris deep in their own half and force some penalties in the latter stages of the game, while also stopping them get into any rhythm.

Are many of these players ready to go up against a Test team? Well Coombes looks like he should be knocking on the door for a spot on the bench—though the resurgence of Peter O’Mahony may have slowed hs route to the 23—while Craig Casey controlled the game well, Lowry grew into the game after some early fumbles and more experienced Test regulars Niall Scannell and Jordan Larmour put in timely reminders of their capabilities, but it will take more to have regular success in Test rugby.

New Zealand v Ireland

New Zealand v Ireland

Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand reached its mid-point with the second Test against the All Blacks. The tourists had the stronger start last week and it was more of the same in Dunedin this week, with an early break from Tadhg Beirne bringing them into the New Zealand 22, and after a minute of concerted pressure Andrew Porter managed to bash his way over for the opening try within 3 minutes. Johnny Sexton kicked the conversion and a penalty ten minutes later, and the All Blacks soon found themselves put in more of a hole when Leicester Fainga’anuku was sent to the bin for a late hit on Mack Hansen, though the 14 men successfully dealt with the resulting driving maul after Ireland kicked to the corner. Things were about to get even worse for the home side though, as a hurried kick from Beauden Barrett was countered by Sexton and as he was brought down, his support man Garry Ringrose was tackled early by Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who joined Fainga’anuku in the bin—though how a penalty try wasn’t given is beyond me as referee Jaco Peyper and TMO Tom Foley were clearly seeing a covering defender that didn’t exist. Ireland’s attack however suddenly lost all cohesion an accuracy, which allowed the All Blacks to hold out and clear their lines before welcoming back Fainga’anuku, but they found themselves almost immediately back down to 13 as Angus Ta’avao (on to cover Tu’ungafasi’s absence at the scrums) went high on Garry Ringrose, resulting in a head-on-head collision. With a penalty in the All Blacks 22, Ireland chose to go for the scrum to force the All Blacks into pulling 2 backs into the pack (due to the scrums going uncontested until Tu’ungafasi’s return, both teams must field a full 8-man scrum) but once again the Irish attack lacked accuracy and a knock-on from James Lowe allowed the defenders to once again clear their lines and get back to 14 men, though some confusion as to who could come back on as player had to be sacrificed for replacement props had led to Ardie Savea being unintentionally replaced for the rest of the game. However after weathering a storm, the All Blacks found themselves finishing the half in the Irish 22, and after James Ryan was sent to the bin for failing to retreat at a penalty, Beauden Barrett (perhaps inadvertently) kicked the ball as it squirted out of a ruck before darting through the defence to drop on the loose ball over the line for the most fortuitous of tries, with brother Jordie kicking a simple conversion to cut the Irish lead to 7-10 at the break.

It was the Irish on the attack again in the early stages of the second half, and when another strong carry from Beirne got them up to the All Blacks’ try line, it was Andrew Porter again who dotted down for his 2ⁿᵈ try of the night and 4ᵗʰ Test try. As a close half continued, Sexton kicked 2 penalties to put Ireland 16 points ahead with 13 minutes remaining. With 6 minutes remaining, the All Blacks found themselves at the Irish try line but were held up 3 times in quick succession. They kept fighting and Will Jordan was sent over out wide for the try, but with Jordie Barrett missing the touchline conversion, scoring 11 more points in 2 minutes proved an impossible task and the Irish hung on for an historic 12-23 victory, their first ever win over the All Blacks in New Zealand.

Releasing the pressure

While Ireland can arguably feel aggrieved that Leicester Fainga’anuku only received a yellow for his hit on Mack Hansen and that no penalty try was given for Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s early tackle on Garry Ringrose, they only had themselves to blame for not being further ahead at halftime.

As accurate as they were around the pitch, when they made it up to the All Blacks 22, things started to fall apart for them. Even before they found themselves with the numerical advantage, a great opportunity came to a disappointing end as Robbie Henshaw failed to collect the ball as he came steaming onto it in an attempt to crash through the defensive line off a scrum. Then twice against 13 men, all cohesion seemed to disappear and the ball was being flung anywhere and everywhere, giving the All Blacks defence a chance to recover an get in on the steal one time, while a second resulted in a Lowe knock-on. Then in the second half, James Lowe ended one chance by sailing a long pass into touch on the edge of the 22 when putting the ball through the hands may have been sufficient.

It’s almost as if the Irish were panicking when they got close to the line, trying to force the try too soon. Porter’s tries showed how patience and concerted pressure in the 22 will break down the All Blacks soon enough, the Irish just need to trust themselves more, take a deep breath and work through the phases to earn the try.

New Zealand v Ireland

New Zealand v Ireland

Having lost to the Maori All Blacks in midweek, Ireland’s next stop on their tour of New Zealand was a trip to Eden Park for the first of 3 Tests against the All Blacks. Ireland had never beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, but got the first chance with some sustained pressure in the 22 that eventually saw Keith Earls go over for the opening try after 6 minutes. The All Blacks had seen their preparations interrupted by COVID cases and were looking very ordinary against a strong Irish defence, but finally managed to work some space for debutant Leicester Fainga’anuku on 20 minutes, and when the Crusaders wing was stopped just short of the try line, Jordie Barrett came onto the ball from the ruck at pace to crash over, before kicking the conversion to put them ahead. The Irish continued to look the more dangerous side, but when James Lowe slipped as Garry Ringrose tried to offload the ball to him, Sevu Reece was first to the loose ball and outpaced everyone in the race from his 22 to the Irish try line, while things got even worse for the Irish as the same phase of play saw them lose Johnny Sexton to a failed HIA. The momentum shifted with that and the All Blacks were suddenly looking the more dangerous, and they had their third try with 5 minutes left in the half as Beauden Barrett’s grubber into the Irish 22 was collected by Quinn Tupaea. And it was soon 4 as Aaron Smith sniped through the middle of a ruck and chipped Hugo Keenan, and though he failed to regather under pressure, Ardie Savea was following up to dive on the loose ball over the line, with Jordie Barrett kicking all the conversions for a 28-5 lead at the break.

The Irish got the start they needed in the second half though, as a series of phases just short of the New Zealand line eventually saw Garry Ringrose go over in the corner. However the All Blacks soon had the pressure back on the Irish, and when Ardie Savea got on the outside of Ringrose, who slipped off the tackle, he had the pace to make it over for his second try of the night. Ireland continued to fight though and again managed to spend some time in the New Zealand 22, which eventually resulted in Josh van der Flier crashing over from short range, only for replays to show that the ball had been dislodged as he went over by Rieko Ioane, just moments after he had also denied Joey Carbery with what appeared to be a high tackle. and the Irish were made to pay with just 10 minutes left as Pita Gus Sowakula went over off a 5m scrum to score on his debut. The Irish looked to end on a high, and after Andrew Porter was held up, replacement centre Bundee Aki managed to crash over from close range on the next attack to score. Karl Tu’inukuafe was sin binned late on for not rolling,but the All Blacks defence held out and Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier were both held up over the line and one final driving maul halted to secure a 42-19 victory for the hosts.

Extra ordinary

Obviously having COVID cases affecting the build-up (and a separate illness for Richie Mo’unga) is not going to help the All Black be at their best, but boy did they look ordinary. In defence, they were struggling to deal with all the pressure coming from the Irish, with minimal impact at the breakdown (unless you count the penalties they conceded), while in attack there was very little being created.

While some great work was done to release Fainga’anuku down the wing after 20 minutes, Tupaea’s try was a result of poor Irish covering behind the defensive line, and the other 2 in the half were purely opportunistic. Despite being 28-5 up, the All Blacks were arguably second best for most of the half and large portions of the second.

For so long, the All Blacks had such an air of invincibility that the game was almost won before it even kicked off. These days however, despite still having some absolute superstars in their ranks, the All Blacks are just another team—and that makes them beatable!

22 and a half men

I’ve quite frequently been of the opinion of late that continually playing Johnny Sexton is going to be the downfall of the Irish. And here we’re seeing it again. While he is a great player and leader for the Irish, he has played so many minutes that nobody else is getting even close to enough minutes of Test rugby to be able to slot in when Sexton is not available. The game completely turned when he went off in this game a heads dropped and such a large source of leadership and organisation.

As Ronan O’Gara stated before the match, Test rugby is about the 23 men. Sexton’s body rarely lets him play the full 80 minutes consistently at this level. They need a second fly half who—even if they are not at the same level as Sexton—can come in and still run this team to a high level. However with Sexton taking almost all the minutes when he is available, nobody has been able to get a real shot at the 10 shirt behind him, which means whoever is picked as Sexton’s understudy goes in underprepared.

Granted when you’re touring New Zealand you want to try and prove a point, but Andy Farrell and the coaches need to prepare for the eventuality that Sexton is not available at a key point in the World Cup and the best way to do that is to keep Sexton out for a run of games and focus on the players behind him. I would argue that the Autumn Tests should be about finding the next 2 fly halves on the depth chart and then using the 2023 Six Nations to give them as much Test experience as possible, while Sexton’s body gets a much-deserved rest to help him through to the end of the World Cup. Heck, with Sexton now being stood down for 12 days as part of the new concussion protocols, they may as well start the Autumn process now.

Maori All Blacks v Ireland

Maori All Blacks v Ireland

Ireland’s Summer Tour to New Zealand got underway on Wednesday morning (Irish time) with their first of 2 matches against the Maori All Blacks. Following a tribute for the late Maori All Blacks wing Sean Wainui and a thrilling haka, it was time for the action to get underway in Hamilton.

The Maori All Blacks are never to be sniffed at, and with this squad including capped All Blacks Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, TJ Perenara, Cullen Grace, Tyrel Lomax and former Wallaby Jermaine Ainsley, the Irish knew they would be in for a real test. But it was the men in green who took an early lead as Cian Healy—on early following a head injury to Jeremy Loughman—won a scrum penalty against Tyrel Lomax, which Ciarán Frawley converted. The Maoris were soon level through the boot of Josh Ioane and looking a threat each time they got ball in hand, and when a monster 50/22 from Zarn Sullivan gave them possession jut 6m out from the Irish try line, they worked the phases for the Blues fullback to go over for the opening try. The Irish almost had an immediate reply as Connor Garden-Bachop was beaten by a bouncing ball in the corner, but the ball bounced just a little too high for Jordan Larmour to gather. However the Irish were soon ahead as Gavin Coombes drew 2 tacklers off a lineout before putting Bundee Aki through with a short pass right before contact, allowing the captain to go under the posts to give Frawley an easy conversion. A Ioane penalty soon put the home team back ahead, before a strong carry from Zarn Sullivan put the Irish defence on the back foot, allowing Ioane to break away and feed Shaun Stevenson for the try in the corner, and with Ioane kicking the touchline conversion, the Irish suddenly found themselves 8 points behind after half an hour. The Irish indiscipline was costing them and after they gave away a free kick just outside their 22 for closing the gap at the lineout, it took just a few phases of hard carrying before Brad Weber sniped through a gap to score the Maori All Blacks’ third. And as the half came to an end, they broke with numbers, for Cullen Grace to score on his Maori All Black debut, Ioane kicking for a 32-10 halftime lead.

The Irish needed a strong start to the half, but after Cian Healy was adjudged to have been held up over the line, they bungled the penalty advantage they had by knocking on the tapped restart, and when Ioane failed to clear the 22 with his clearance kick, the Irish came again but found themselves held up again, this time through debutant Cian Prendergast. The Irish were straight back on the attack after a strong carry off the drop-out from Combes, but as they reached the line, Nick Timoney proved that third time isn’t always lucky as he was also held up over the line. Things soon got even worse for Ireland as promising young centre James Hume was helped off injured and the Maori All Blacks, now being led by debutant TJ Perenara, got their first chance of any possession in the half and quickly set about taking the momentum away from the men in green. With 14 minutes remaining, the Irish made it back down to the other end of the pitch but again found themselves held up (Coombes this time) but they had a penalty advantage and this time didn’t waste it, taking the tap and eventually driving Coombes over for a try that his efforts in the game deserved, Frawley adding the extras. Happiness soon turned to worry though as Cian Healy had to leave the pitch on a buggy after what looked to be an awful knee injury that will likely end his tour, and though both teams looked to finish on a high, the score remained 32-17 to the final whistle.

Heading for trouble

Just over a week ago, World Rugby announced that starting from the beginning of June, return to play protocols following concussion symptoms would be increased from 7 days to 12 days, in an effort to help improve the safety of the game. Unfortunately, any hard work being done to improve safety was undone in one 12-minute span at the start of this game.

With just 1 minute on the clock, Irish loosehead Jeremy Loughman carried low into contact and came out worse for wear. Television footage clearly showed him struggle to get back to his feet, and as he went off for a HIA, he was clearly being steadied by a medic. Now already there we have the first issue, as a player who shows severe concussion symptoms (such as balance issues) should just be off for the remainder of the game, not going off for a HIA. And to make things worse, Loughman somehow supposedly passed his HIA as he was back on the pitch within 12 minutes, with the Kiwi commentators (who frequently show a flagrant disregard for player wellbeing and safety in their commentary) saying how wonderful it was to see him back on the pitch. Well clearly he wasn’t in the best of states, as he was permanently removed at halftime.

This was almost a carbon copy of the Tomas Francis incident that was widely condemned during the Six Nations. The irish medics and any neutral medics who were involved in letting Loughman back on the pitch should be instantly out of a job and hoping that Loughman never has any health issues in the future, or else there may be a hefty lawsuit rightfully coming their way.

Work smarter not harder

The Irish were their own worst enemies in this match, especially the first half, as they just couldn’t stop giving away penalties. The vast majority of these were coming either at the breakdown or for offsides.

Granted the Maori All Blacks were having success when they could spread the ball wide—with Shaun Stevenson especially having the beating of Keith Earls all day—so it made sense for the Irish to want to blitz up and slow down the ball as much as they could at the breakdown, but they were too keen to do this, and this led to them continually being pinged for not releasing or not rolling away, while the defensive line jumped offside far too often.

This lack of discipline just made it too easy for the Maori All Blacks to camp themselves in the Irish territory for much of the first half, and with that consistent possession and territory, they slowly but surely found gaps to exploit in the Irish defence to exploit for tries.

With Ireland likely to use a similar tactic against the All Blacks given the quality they will have to choose from on the wings (Clarke, Jordan, Ioane, Reece and Fainga’anuku), they will need to make sure that hey do so in a much more disciplined manner, or they will be gifting the game to the All Blacks.

Stars of the future

Watching this game, there were 2 players—1 on each side—who really stood out to me. The first half may as well have been called the Zarn Sullivan show, such was the impact that the Blues fullback was having. He dominated the air to deal with any high balls sent his way, helped control the territory and possession game with his monster boot (including a stunning 50/22 that gave the Maori All Blacks a lineout 6m from the Irish try line to set up his own try) and frequently found himself dominating the contact in attack even if he wasn’t breaking the first tackle or 2. At just 21, it looks like he has a bright future ahead of him, and I can’t help feel that him at 15 and Stephen Perofeta at 10 may be a more consistent combination for the Blues than the current ones featuring Beauden Barrett. While the 2023 World Cup will probably be too soon for him, don’t be shocked to see him become a regular in the 23 during the next cycle.

Meanwhile in the Irish team, number 8 Gavin Coombes was a shining star on a disappointing day for them. The 24-year-old Munster back row was one of the most dominant carriers for the Irish, breaking tackles and making the big carries to put the Irish on the front foot. This quality of carrying was also cleverly used for Bundee Aki’s try, as Coombes appeared to be carrying into contact after being fed the ball off a lineout, only to feed Aki with a short pass right before contact after he had drawn in the 2 tacklers and created the gap for Aki to scythe through. While 4 of Ireland’s back row slots for the World Cup seem to be filled with Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Caelan Doris, Coombes has a chance to push for a World Cup space, where he will likely play against Romania and the Asia/Pacific 1 Qualifier (likely Tonga, but potentially South Korea/Hong Kong), before becoming a key part of the irish back row in the next cycle.

2022 Summer Tests: Players To Watch

2022 Summer Tests: Players To Watch

As both Super Rugby Pacific and the Northern Hemisphere club rugby season come to an end, it’s time to switch our attention from club rugby to the international game as a number of the Northern Hemisphere nations go on tour:

  • England to Australia
  • Ireland to New Zealand (facing both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks)
  • France to Japan
  • Wales to South Africa
  • Scotland to Argentina (while a Scotland “A” side will also face Chile in an uncapped match)
  • Italy to Portugal, Romania and Georgia

Now regular readers will have guessed what’s coming here, as I look at the majority of the teams above (in this case all the Six Nations and Rugby Championship teams) and pick a player from each team to watch out for during this tour. Often they will be someone relatively new to Test rugby, sometimes someone with a point to prove as they face the pressure of depth at their position, and sometimes a player who may have already made a name for themselves, but finds themselves now switching to a different position.

Of course these are just my picks, and there were certainly some other options that I could have gone with, so feel free to chuck who you would have selected in the comments!

Argentina

Starting off this list with someone who firmly falls into the third category I mentioned with Santiago Carreras. You may have noticed that I have began a series of my picks for the top 5 players in the world at each position and (SPOILERS) the Gloucester back will be appearing in one of those articles down the line. But it will not be the one about fly half, and that is where he has found himself playing in recent Tests. He certainly has the skillset to excel there, but he lacks the experience, having never started a professional club match at the position and not likely to anytime soon at Gloucester. With Michael Cheika having taken over leadership of the Pumas, will he stick with the Carreras experiment to take advantage of the depth Argentina have in the back 3, or will he look to play his best players in their best positions?

Australia

With 16 caps to his name already at the age of just 22, Angus Bell looks to be around for the long haul. A dynamic loosehead, he is becoming a much more solid scrummager and will be licking his lips at the thought of taking on the English tighthead crop with Kyle Sinckler missing. If he can cause some damage at the set piece, England could be in trouble.

England

There were so many ways to go with this pick and I was very tempted by returning players like Danny Care and Joe Cokanasiga or the inexperienced Joe Heyes, but instead I have gone for Care’s Harlequins teammate Joe Marchant. The centre has always had great attacking quality but had added a super reliable defence to his game, while he also has the ability to move out to the wing. He may have a fight to make the starting XV when everyone is available, but with both Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade missing this tour, Marchant has a chance to push for that starting spot. His familiarity with Marcus Smith will certainly help things in attack, while he will play a big role in helping shut down an exciting Australian back line.

France

As if France weren’t dangerous enough, they may have found another future star just in time for the World Cup in the form of Yoan Tanga. The 25-year-old Racing 92 back row really stood out to me with his consistent carrying in the tight for the Barbarians in their humiliation of England last weekend, which repeatedly drew in multiple tacklers to finally get him down. The French backline is dangerous when given space, and Tanga’s carrying will just give them even more to work with.

Ireland

Sticking with the pack here, I’m going for Leinster hooker Dan Sheehan. It feels like in an ideal world with everyone available, the Irish hookers in the matchday 23 will be Sheehan and Leinster teammate Rónan Kelleher, with the big question just being who starts. However with Kelleher out injured, Sheehan will surely be the clear first choice ahead of Rob Herring and Dave Heffernan and with the World Cup just a year away, he has a legitimate chance to secure the number 2 shirt.

Italy

I was initially going with Six Nations hero Ange Capuozzo here but a second glance at the scrum half position made me change my mind. With Stephen Varney left out after a poor Six Nations that ended with injury and limited minutes for Gloucester, Callum Braley’s retirement from international rugby leaves the Azzurri short of experience at scrum half this summer. Step forward Alessandro Garbisi! Paolo’s younger brother has shone with the U20s and has been racking up the minutes for Benetton in the URC. He may not be the finished product yet, but a summer facing 3 of the top 4 teams from the 2022 Rugby Europe Championship will be a great way for him to gain experience in the senior team.

New Zealand

What a difference a season makes. Last year, the All Blacks were seriously lacking centres, whereas now they seem almost spoiled for choice. And while part of this is down to the return of Josh Goodhue from injury and another year of experience for last year’s crop, they are also helped by the arrival of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck from rugby league. The centre played 20 times for New Zealand in the 13-man code alongside almost 200 appearances in the NRL, and has grown into the 12 position in his first season with the Blues. With a great range of skills, clever footwork and good strength, Tuivasa-Sheck has the chance to be the new Sonny Bill Williams.

South Africa

Evan Roos was going to get my pick here until I realised that André Esterhuizen only had 8 caps! The Quins centre is arguably one of the best inside centres in the world, but has the challenge of being in the sae national team squad as Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am, while South Africa’s recent favouring of a 6-2 split on the bench has led to them usually going for a more versatile player on the bench rather than a specialist centre. However his form has been incredible over recent seasons and he is fully deserving of a return to the national team and will be looking to put in some big performances against Wales to solidify his spot in the squad ahead of the World Cup.

Scotland

Another in a similar spot to Santi Carreras, Blair Kinghorn may not be as entrenched in the Scottish XI, but he was clearly in the reckoning for a spot in the back 3. However his skillset has recently been used more at fly half, and with Finn Russell given a summer off and Adam Hastings forced to pull out of the touring squad through injury, Kinghorn looks likely to wear the 10 shirt against the Pumas. With Scotland underperforming of late and resting some key players this summer, and facing an Argentina team looking to climb back up the rankings under a new head coach, the pressure will be on Kinghorn.

Wales

Finishing off this list with a potential debutant in Tommy Reffell. Many would argue that the Leicester flanker should have been capped well before this, but he now goes into the South Africa tour off the back of a strong performance in the Premiership final. Back row is an area where Wales have plenty of quality but don’t seem to give anyone a long enough chance to secure a spot. But with Reffell’s all-round ability in the loose and real danger at the breakdown, can he prove himself worthy of an extended run in Wayne Pivac’s 23?

2022 Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland

2022 Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland

The middle match of Super Saturday saw Ireland hosting Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland knew that they still had a chance of winning the tournament should England defeat France later that evening and after a free-flowing first 15 minutes, they found themselves just denied the opening try as Josh van der Flier was held up following a driving maul. However they were trying again with a m maul on the opposite side of the pitch just minutes later, and this time Dan Sheehan was able to splinter off and crash over to break the deadlock. As the half wore on, Ireland began to dominate possession and territory, and the next time they made it up to the Scottish try line, it was Cian Healy who forced himself the final couple of inches to cross the whitewash. However the Scots finally worked their way through some phases and Pierre Schoeman managed to reach out for the line and score, though the conversion from Blair Kinghorn—starting at fly half ahead of Finn Russell following his latest breach of team protocols—drifted wide of the posts to leave the score at 14-5 at the break.

The Scots had the chance to open the scoring after the break as a deflected kick bounced fortuitously off off Stuart Hogg’s thigh to beat his opposite man and allow him to regather, but with 3 men supporting inside, the Scottish captain decided that it had been too long since he had butchered a try and he instead held onto the ball and allowed himself to be tackled into touch just short of the corner by Hugo Keenan. His selfishness became even more costly just before the hour as the latest period of Irish possession in the Scottish 22 saw van der Flier go over for Ireland’s 3ʳᵈ try of the game. The Scots continued to attack, but despite getting some possession and territory, they could still find no way of seriously troubling the Irish defence, and a late yellow card for Ben White set the Irish up nicely for Conor Murray to go over with just a minute left on the clock to earn a bonus point and a 26-5. That result secured Ireland the Triple Crown, while the bonus point meant that a French draw (providing no bonus point) against England would be enough to send the title back to Dublin.

It’s been a while, but it feels like one of Ireland’s few weak spots over the last couple of years is finally sorted: hooker. While Rory Best was a leader, he often struggled at the lineout, and the man who inherited the number 2 jersey, Rob Herring, didn’t necessarily look bad, but was not the same quality as the team around him.

However over the last year or so, Rónan Kelleher finally seemed to win the number 2 jersey, while fellow Leinster hooker Dan Sheehan also took his chances to impress and take on the starting role following Kelleher’s injury. Both are fantastic modern-day hookers; they have the mobility of a back row, the handling skills to match anyone in this Irish team and (most importantly) they are reliable at the line-out.

At just 24 and 23 respectively, Kelleher and Sheehan look to be the go-to hooker pairing for Ireland for the foreseeable future. And the scary thing is that they will likely only get better over the next few years as they get more accustomed to Test rugby.

Now all the Irish lack is a replacement for Jonathan Sexton…

Scotland

While I questioned if it was time the WRU moved on from Wayne Pivac, I think it’s time that the Scots moved on from Gregor Townsend. While they have developed great depth and pulled out some big results, they still flatter to deceive and fail to put together a genuine challenge for the title.

Throughout the tournament their backs have struggled to put together much of note, and the decision to replace Finn Russell with with Blair Kinghorn didn’t help things either—arguably Kinghorn should have been replacing Stuart Hogg at 15, then maybe the team would have stopped butchering their best chances.

But while the aimless attacking has been bad, probably the last straw came following last week’s win over Italy, with 6 players (Ali Price, Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Sam Johnson and Sione Tuipulotu) breaching team protocols by leaving team premises to go to a bar. That’s 3 of your biggest leaders and all of your playmakers in the back line. If they’re doing this, it suggests that there is some disconnect between them and Townsend, while this is not the first time Russell has been disciplined for breaching team protocols. It seems Townsend has lost control of the team, and there’s no coming back from that.

But this should be an attractive side to potential replacements. The depth of this squad is better than I can remember it being in a long time, with Rory Darge, Ben White, Andy Christie and Ben Vellacott all earning their first caps and players like Schoeman, Tuipulotu, Josh Bayliss and Kyle Steyn all gaining vital international experience. With a decent number of Tests still to play ahead of the World Cup, this is the time to move on from Townsend and bring in someone who can turn this potential into results.

2022 Six Nations: England v Ireland

2022 Six Nations: England v Ireland

The penultimate weekend of the 2022 Six Nations came to an end with England hosting Ireland at Twickenham. Both teams knew that a win would still keep their title hopes alive (assuming England beat France next week), but things became infinitely harder for England as Charlie Ewels was given a red card after just 82 seconds for a high tackle on James Ryan, Jonathan Sexton kicking the penalty for an early 0-3 lead. And just minutes later Ireland were over for a try, as Dan Sheehan and Josh van der Flier worked the blind side to release James Lowe. Ireland were taking full advantage of the extra space by drawing England in tight and thought they were over for a second try on 12 minutes through Caelan Doris, only for the TMO to find that Maro Itoje had forced a knock-on in the build-up. England grew into the game, but could only muster 2 successful penalties from 3 attempts by Marcus Smith, and as Ireland looked to dictate things in the closing phases of the half, a quick tap penalty from Jamison Gibson-Park sent Hugo Keenan over for a try, though Smith was able to add one more penalty before the break for a 9-15 halftime deficit.

The Irish came hard in the early minutes of the second half, but England’s defence held strong and Irish handling let them down, and it was the English who opened the scoring in the half as Joe Marchant forced a holding on penalty following a great kick chase from Freddie Steward. Ireland’s discipline was quickly disappearing as England dominated the scrums (with Jack Nowell in as a makeshift flanker) and increased in confidence, and Smith levelled the scores with another penalty on the hour mark. Sexton soon had the Irish back ahead by 3 points, and as the final 10 minutes approached it looked like the Irish may be about to score a crucial try as Caelan Doris broke through, only for Ben Youngs to make a good recovering tackle and his offload to the supporting Conor Murray to be a little too far behind him. However the exhaustion of playing a man down for so long was clearly starting to hurt the English and Ireland finally pulled them apart sufficiently for Jack Conan to crash over from short range, Sexton’s conversion stretching the lead to 10 points with 6 minutes remaining. The English resistance had been broken and the Irish secured the bonus point through Finlay Bealham’s first Six Nations try. Witht he match secured, Sexton was removed from what will be his last Test at Twickenham—having announced his intention to retire after the World Cup—and he watched on from the sidelines as his side held out one last England attack to keep their title hopes alive with a 15-32 victory.

England

While there were a number of heroic England performances following Charlie Ewels’ decision that he didn’t want to play rugby today, one man who deserves so much praise is Ellis Genge.

Known more for his play in the loose than in the set piece, the baby rhinoceros found himself packing down against arguably the world’s best tighthead in Tadhg Furlong, and rather than the reassuring bulk of Courtney Lawes pushing from blind side flanker, he instead had Jack Nowell. And yet somehow he not only held his own in the scrum, but actually dominated Furlong, winning countless penalties that allowed England to clear their lines, settle, get into Irish territory and kick points of their own.

While he has continued to make his name with his play in the loose, Genge has quietly matured into a solid all-round player. With this showing against Furlong, he has just sent out a message to opposition tightheads. Next week he will likely come up against the walking talking mountain Uini Atonio. Can he back up this performance with another strong day at the scrum? Time will tell…

Ireland

It’s a good job that the English fell away at the end of this match, as this was starting to look like we could be watching a very embarrassing day for Ireland. As great as England defended, the Irish should have been taking full advantage of their numerical advantage.

Instead, bar a few moments, the Irish either panicked and tried to score too quickly (resulting in errors) or took the pressure off England too much, allowing them to dictate the game for large portions. And as they struggled to finish off their chances, they began to panic and lose their discipline, with moments like their lineout being penalised for obstruction—ironically something Peter O’Mahony had asked the referee to watch out for from England earlier in the game.

At the same time, the scrum was pretty much a guaranteed penalty for England as Tadhg Furlong was second-best to Ellis Genge, and then even the breakdown started becoming a mess for them as player like Joe Marchant made up for their numerical disadvantage and the loss of Tom Curry to injury.

That’s 2 games in a row now that Ireland have found themselves struggling despite a numerical advantage. If they want to be considered one of the very best teams in the world, they need to become more clinical, urgently.

2022 Six Nations: Ireland v Italy

2022 Six Nations: Ireland v Italy

Round 3 of the 2022 edition of the Six Nations came to an end with a trip to Dublin to see Ireland host Italy. The Irish made a handful of changes with a match against England in the near future, but were soon ahead as an inside pass put Caelan Doris through a hole and his offload found hooker Dan Sheehan, who fed Joey Carbery for the opening try in less than 4 minutes. Italy were soon on the scoreboard after Edoardo Padovani blasted over a penalty from halfway, but found themselves playing a man after less than a quarter of the match down when Epalahame Faiva—on early after an injury to starting hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi—was red carded for a high tackle on Sheehan. A quirk of the rugby laws (that is absolutely bonkers and would be changed immediately if any of the big nations fell afoul of it) means that with nobody else in the Italian 23 able to play hooker, scrums would go uncontested (which must always be 8v8) but the Italians would be down to 13 (taking 2 men off but bringing on 1 replacement front row), and the Irish took advantage of the extra space for Jamison Gibson-Park to score, while fullback James Lowry went over on the half hour from the first phase after a scrum and Peter O’Mahony secured the bonus point just before half time. The Italians kept on fighting though, and Paolo Garbisi kicked a penalty to end the half down 24-6.

It took the Irish attack a while to get going after the break, but finally they got a series of phases of front foot ball and pulled the defense narrow, allowing Gibson-Park to throw a wide pass to James Lowe to cross out wide. With the game over as a competition, the replacements were coming on earlier than usual, and Jonathan Sexton marked his 55ᵗʰ minute introduction by immediately attacking a gap and offloading to Lowry for his second of the day. The Irish continued to struggle to pull away in quite the fashion one would expect, but when Ryan Baird charged down Alessandro Fusco’s box kick, there were no blue shirts in behind to stop him gathering the loose ball and going over for the try. But with just minutes remaining Braam Steyn was carded for a deliberate knock on that saw the Italians down to 12, and the Irish took advantage by going for the scrum and using the 3-man advantage in the back line to put Lowe over for a second try. There was time for another attack which saw Josh van der Flier held up over the line, but with time remaining for the goal line drop-out and a 3-man advantage, the Irish managed to send Kieron Treadwell over for one final try, with Sexton kicking the conversion for a 57-6 victory.

Ireland

Ireland may have earned the bonus point by half time and come away with a comfortable victory, but they should be disappointed with this. With a 2-man advantage for an hour (including 5 minutes at the end with a 3-man advantage), they should have been winning by so much more.

While there were some huge individual performances in the Italian defence, with 2 men less and 3 props on the pitch, there was always going to be space, but Ireland did not do the work to find or create it, and far too often they ended up playing into the Italian pack and getting turned over, forcing the pass once a half-break was made rather than recycling to go again with quick ball, or getting white line fever and going alone when the pass was the better option.

Perhaps even more worrying was that Andy Farrell saw the need to bring Sexton on before the hour with a lead of just 23 points. While there were a couple of unfamiliar combinations out there, I can’t help feel that a team like France or even Ian Foster’s New Zealand would have found a way to turn this into a cricket score with such a numerical advantage.

Italy

A phrase I hear in rugby too often is that red cards ruin games. That is not true at all, but unfortunately this game was ruined as a result of the red card to Hame Faiva. Now I want to make clear first of all that the officials were all spot-on in the decision and did a great job of talking everything through with the teams. Unfortunately, it was a rarely-seen law from World Rugby that saw Italy further punished.

rugby uncontested scrums referee document

As Wayne Barnes details in this video, referees are provided with the above guidelines for when a scrum goes uncontested. Lucchesi’s early injury (he went off cradling his arm after just 5 minutes) is unfortunate as hooker is a specialist position and it is rare that you will have more than 2 trained hookers in a matchday 23. And that means that if anything happens to Hame Faiva in the remaining 75 minutes, Italy will be unable to field a trained hooker.

So when Faiva then went high and gave the referee no choice but to red card him, that is when everything went tits up. With uncontested scrums coming, Italy always had to sacrifice someone for a prop in order to keep the front row unit full of 3 specialist front rows, but per the table above, they also had to lose a second player for the rest of the match. And here is the problem.

The reason for this law makes sense, as the Italian scrum should be penalised for their hooker getting sent off, while this stops a team struggling in the scrum from pretending their last available front row is injured in order to go to uncontested scrums. But does this require 2 players to effectively be sent off? Being forced to field 3 props already harms a defence when you consider that most hookers these days are like an extra back row and super mobile. By the team already having to take a player off for the replacement front row and the numerical advantage in the back line, is this not already creating enough of an advantage for the opposition team? Or perhaps is it time to look at something I have suggested previously about having larger matchday squads (say 30 for example, with 5 or 6 specialist front rows on the bench) but still the same number of replacements allowed per match (or less), which would allow more flexibility so that games are not decided by a team having to play someone out of position…