So continuing on from last week’s change in tack with the Lineout’s way forward in terms of how we get our musings out, here is our second go at a weekly whip round of what got us talking. In many ways we were literally spoilt for choice with the start of the Autumn Internationals this weekend and Canada’s Women heading into the semi finals of the World Cup. However, we decided to focus on a big international as well as one that nobody seems to want to talk about, Canada’s shot at World Cup glory, the continuing frustrations around officiating and player welfare. So hopefully there’s something in here that sparks your interest and keeps your pints as frothy as ours this week.
The one that EVERYBODY is talking about this weekend
As the Autumn Internationals return with a vengeance this weekend a year out from the World Cup, there is plenty at stake and lots to talk about. However, without a doubt the most keenly anticipated fixture this weekend is the Dublin dustup between Ireland and South Africa. Ireland currently ranked number one in the world take on World Champions South Africa, who themselves are ranked third. It is indeed a clash of titans in green, though Ireland for reasons best known to themselves have decided to choose a jersey that is likely going to make it extremely difficult at times to know who’s doing what on the pitch. It’s also likely to lead to some confused officiating at times from the otherwise excellent Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli and his team. Oh and if you plan on watching it in black and white don’t bother.
However, apart from the poor choices in jersey fashion made by the IRFU, it is a mouth watering contest that we can’t wait to watch unfold. Irish supporters have been here before a year out from the World Cup ,with their team riding high only to then crash into oblivion in the early stages of the global showpiece twelve months later. No matter how well Ireland do this Autumn and the Six Nations next year there is still an ominous sense of deja vu. Concerns linger around Ireland’s complete lack of tried and trusted depth in the playmaker position of fly half even though Johnny Sexton is, in the twilight of his career, probably playing the best rugby of his life. However, one critical injury to Sexton and all of a sudden Ireland looks dramatically out of shape despite the enormous depth it can field in every other position on the pitch. If Sexton stays fit until 28th of October 2023 and Ireland doesn’t suddenly implode on the big stage as in tournaments gone by, then these are truly heady days for Ireland and their supporters who have the right to dream big dreams.
It’s an exceptionally solid looking Irish outfit trotting out at the Aviva with most of the big names there including Sexton leading the troops. Interestingly, Ireland have decided to give the wise head of veteran scrum half Conor Murray the start for this one, with superstar of the last twelve months Jamison Gibson-Park warming the bench. Also with a view to development, Ulster’s rock star winger Robert Baloucoune gets a start on one of the biggest possible stages prior to the World Cup.
South Africa have had an inconsistent run since the World Cup and lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. Question marks linger around selection and tactics, as well as leaving it rather late to develop some of the extraordinary new talent that has emerged from the United Rugby Championship. However, on their day the Springboks are still capable of producing absolutely massive performances that revolve around their rather awe inspiring physicality and a degree of organization that looks exceptionally reliable, even if it may not be as enterprising as that of some of their opponents.
South Africa bring their all star forward pack to the Aviva on Saturday in an attempt to completely suffocate any sense of Irish enterprise. Jaden Hendrikse’s excellent form in the Rugby Championship, where we felt he outperformed stalwart Faf de Klerk, is rewarded with a starting berth at scrum half, while the Damian Willemse experiment continues at fly half. Unlike Ireland, South Africa appear committed to being able to field some depth in the 10 jersey come the World Cup. We can only see one real weakness in this Springbok outfit and that’s the center pairing of De Allende and Kriel which we feel can’t hold a candle to Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose who are two of the slickest and most imaginative operators in the business.
In short, this is set to be an epic tussle of two impressive forward packs, wily halfbacks and electric backs. It’s the game of the weekend by a country mile and will tell us a great deal about what to expect in a year’s time at the World Cup, especially given that these two Test powerhouses will also have to face off against each other in the Pool stages. In terms of preparation for the “big one”, Coaches Andy Farrell of Ireland and Jacques Nienaber of South Africa couldn’t ask for better preparation, all aided and abetted by the fact that all these players will get continued exposure to each other over the course of this year’s United Rugby Championship. By the time the World Cup rolls around these two teams will know each other inside out, making Saturday’s dress rehearsal for their Pool clash a year later one of the most fascinating fixtures of 2022.
And the one that strangely nobody wants to talk about given its implications
The qualifying tournament for that last coveted berth at next year’s World Cup which will be taking place in Dubai over the next three weekends has huge ramifications for the global game and North American Rugby in particular. Consequently we are rather perplexed that we can hardly find any news of it – and trust us we have gone digging. It features four teams in a competition spread over three weekends. Of the four teams participating, USA, Portugal, Kenya and Hong Kong – the Americans and Portuguese are the clear favorites ranked 19th and 20th respectively.
Portugal are one of the best emerging European nations and in the recent Rugby Europe annual tournament, which is like a Tier 2 Six Nations, Portugal finished fourth. However in the last twelve months they have put in some big performances. They have beaten Canada, given Japan a scare, drawn with Georgia and also gave Italy the fright of their lives. Portugal have participated in one World Cup in 2007.
The Americans meanwhile lurch from one crisis to another. Although they beat Canada in their initial attempt to qualify for the World Cup, they then lost to Uruguay. In their second attempt to qualify they were beaten out by Chile. They were then humiliated by New Zealand 104-14 and then in the warmup for this tournament lost both their games to South African provincial sides the Cheetahs and Pumas. In short they are low on confidence, something Portugal seems to have in spades. If the USA fail to qualify for the World Cup it will be the first time since the tournament’s inception that a North American side will not be represented, and only the second time the Americans have missed the party. It’s hardly a good advertisement for growing the men’s game in this part of the World. We can thank Canadian and American Women’s rugby for righting the ship in that regard, but given that the US is scheduled to host the Men’s global showpiece in 2031 it’s rather a poor advertisement for the sport in this part of the globe if we have to wait another four years to be represented.
So whether you’re a Canadian or American supporter we have a hunch that for the love of the game in this part of the world you may well be humming the “Star Spangled Banner” into your pints over the next three Sundays.
A legend is born as Canada’s Women face the toughest challenge of all this weekend in their semi-final against tournament favorites England
We can hardly wait for tomorrow night and seeing our outstanding Canadian women take to the pitch at Auckland’s legendary Eden Park to face off against World Cup favorites England. As Canada’s exemplary Captain Sophie de Goede has pointed out, despite the David and Goliath nature of the contest the Canadians are not daunted by the Red Roses, and to a woman have all made huge personal sacrifices to make it to this point. While many of the Canadian team may still be amateurs their motivation and dedication to purpose is 110% professional. Although an increasingly large number of the Canadian team are now playing in England’s professional league, with Sophie de Goede herself being a regular match day starter for Saracens, many of the players running out tomorrow have had to make some incredibly hard choices to play the game between careers, families and friends.
England may seem invincible and head into tomorrow’s match on an unprecedented 29 game winning streak, but there are aspects of Canada’s game that could cause them problems. Canada will have to be giant slayers tomorrow if they are to progress to a final date with either New Zealand or France, but they seem rather comfortable with the underdog tag. In terms of physicality they can give as good as they get and they are just as competitive as England in the set pieces. England have tended to favor a very physical game so far that relies heavily on rolling mauls, an area where Canada have tended to be defensively strong. If England do decide to vary it up and employ a running game which they are no slouch at either, only being outdone in meters made so far in the tournament by New Zealand, then they could target Canada’s one big weakness so far.
Canada have one Achilles Heel that got exposed in their two matches against the Americans and that is their tackle success rate. It only averaged 77% over the two games and if they are to take on a side like England, especially if the Red Roses open the game up, that has to be in the mid to high 80s at a bare minimum if they are to stand a chance. If they can’t fix it then they simply have to physically pressure England into mistakes and lapses of discipline where they can punish them with the boot. Sophie de Goede was exemplary at the kicking tee in Canada’s quarter final against the USA and she’ll need to bring that accuracy to this match, as any points left begging could well make or break the outcome of this match if Canada are able to remain in the hunt. Canada will have to control the restarts, and really test England under the high ball and gain some traction in the aerial contests if they are to stand a chance tomorrow night allied to their strengths in the set pieces and at the breakdown.
Some are saying that this could be a bridge too far for De Goede and her charges, but whatever happens she and her teammates will all have carved out their own bit of history and will still have a shot at a third place finish should they stumble against England. Sophie de Goede has been an outstanding Captain and has already ensured that she can walk with the best in the modern game as well as claim her place amongst the greats of Canadian rugby.
Once again blatant inconsistency in officiating and interpretation of the rules makes a mockery of our game!
We are not ones to nitpick over official’s decisions, or to say that they cause games to be won or lost. However, we can no longer stand by and watch some of the outrageous recklessness that could cause players to suffer injuries that may have serious implications in later life. Watching the first two Autumn Internationals we were literally gob smacked at the inconsistency in decision making by the officials at the expense of player welfare.
In the first instance in an attempt to clear out a Japanese player from a ruck, New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick charged directly into the back of Japan’s Kazuki Himeno’s head and neck with his shoulder. Admittedly Himeno was low, which made it difficult but it was still irresponsible and could have had serious consequences. Georgian Referee Nika Amashukeli after consultation with his team and the TMO adjudicated it a red card and Retallick is now unable to participate in New Zealand’s Autumn tour till possibly their final match against England. It was the right call – plain and simple and Amashukeli and his team are to be applauded for “interpreting” it correctly.
Now fast forward twelve hours later to Murrayfield and Scotland’s game against Australia. In a mirror image of what happened in Tokyo, Scotland’s Glen Young commits exactly the same offence attempting to clear out Australia’s Tate McDermott. The incident is made worse by the fact that Young makes contact at almost twice the speed that Retallick was at. You can see McDermott’s head visibly snap back from the impact. English Referee Luke Pearce, who in general we find very consistent and solid in his duties, after discussion with his team and the TMO decides to lower the danger to yellow as Young led with his bicep even though his shoulder ultimately connects with force to McDermott’s head. We’re sorry but in no universe can we find this decision sensible and in the interests of player welfare, especially given the fact that the force of impact was almost twice that of Retallick’s.
This “interpretation” by the referees aspect of officiating really needs to be made consistent, especially where any contact with force to the head is made. In a world where Mums and Dads are increasingly worried about the long term impacts of such collisions on their little Jimmys and Susans, we’ve simply got to stamp it out. The kind of inconsistency in arbitration witnessed on Saturday has to be arrested and quickly if we genuinely want our game to grow in popularity and get more youngsters involved at an early age. We’re pretty sure that most parents watching those games Saturday, who were on the fence about whether their kids should play rugby or not, were probably not shopping for rugby boots on Sunday. While physicality is a cherished aspect of our game, safety has to be paramount. Perhaps we can learn something from the Women’s game and some of their tackle techniques. Have you noticed how fewer HIAs there have been in the Women’s World Cup so far?
Two of rugby’s most recently maligned characters admit they’re far from perfect and need to change but also highlight the damaging effects of their faults being hauled in front of the firing squad of social media
If you’ve followed the media in the last few months there has been outrage over the antics of Australia’s Nic White milking a penalty by diving to ground feigning injury in a match against South Africa in the Rugby Championship. He became public enemy number one in an instant, and social media was replete with images of him in a tutu and a tiara. While we didn’t agree with his actions and certainly don’t want to see the type of antics and play acting that plague football become part of our game, the resultant persecution of him in both the press and social media was out of bounds, as it started to take aim at his personality and carried over to his family. That is unacceptable whichever way you cut it, and we have to profess that perhaps even we got caught up in the initial negative reaction to the act that put Nic White in that position in the first place, and for that we feel we have to apologize.
In the same vein, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton has also been in the crosshairs of social media and the rugby public, and recently found himself being labeled “a petulant child” by some rugby critics and media pundits. Much like with Nic White, while we have grown slightly weary of Sexton’s constant outbursts against the officials, the media then generated a backlash against a player who for all his faults has been a stellar servant to his country and is held in high regard by his teammates. The vitriol is both damaging and hurtful to not only the players but also their families. Test Rugby is a pressure cauldron of note and in Sexton’s case the added responsibilities of the Captaincy can make it almost impossible at times to be perceived as a reasonable individual.
These are gifted players plain and simple who are integral and important parts of their respective teams. We recently came across these two interviews on YouTube, that helped give us some perspective on these players as individuals and the fact that at the end of the day they are normal human beings who just like us make mistakes. In both, Sexton and White admit to their failings and the fact that they need to address them but without the spiteful artillery barrage of social media goading them into it. Sexton openly admits that he needs to change the way he deals with referees heading into the Autumn Series and beyond, while White admits he wishes he hadn’t made such a meal of a seemingly harmless incident in the grand scheme of things. His colleague Tate McDermott could have made a much bigger deal of a genuine act of thuggery this weekend but to his credit let the officials do their job and got on with the game, even if they got their decision wrong.
In both these interviews, White and Sexton come across as decent blokes just trying to do the right thing by their teams. So let’s give them credit for that and move on, and celebrate them for the extraordinary players that they are. We strongly recommend you watch both interviews and as we have done judge for yourselves. The Nic White interview is on Rugby Pod on YouTube with Jim Hamilton and the Sexton interview is on the IRFU YouTube channel.
So that’s it for this week. Take care everyone and here’s to an absolute feast of Men and Women’s Test Rugby this weekend!