/ Monday Maul

Monday Maul
The bad luck of the Irish
Tom Hamilton
November 25, 2013
Brian O'Driscoll cuts a forlorn figure as he walks off having seen the All Blacks shatter his dreams of securing the elusive win © PA Photos

It's a familiar story; southern hemisphere dominance and appalling pitches. Monday Maul looks back at the key talking points from the weekend's matches

The unbeaten year

The All Blacks' unbeaten year is an incredible feat, something that has never been achieved in the professional era. Throughout this year, the Kiwis have been the best side in the world. They dominated the Rugby Championship, took all three Tests against France, with ease, and then enjoyed a grand slam tour to the northern hemisphere.

But it could have been very different. Ireland will be left to reflect exactly how they managed to throw Sunday's match away. With a minute left on the clock, they set up stall on New Zealand's ten metre line. But then what happened shows exactly why the All Blacks are the best side in the world. Their engrained never-say-die attitude saw them go 60 metres and win the match. A 'shit storm', as Steve Hansen put it, was averted and history made.

Not pitch perfect

If you cannot provide a pitch worthy of hosting a Test match, then the stadium should not be chosen in the first place. Like the last two weeks, we have lamented the dreadful state of various turfs around Europe. But this weekend, such was the dreadful state of the Stade de France, referee Wayne Barnes was advising the front-rows on how to scrummage as they battled against the carving up grass. The Murrayfield pitch was a disgrace while the Millennium Stadium's is more suitable for speedway than rugby. It needs to be sorted as the games are suffering.

Gatland gets it right

On the face of it, making 11 changes from one Test to the next is a gamble. But Warren Gatland got it right on Friday evening - he should have perhaps even made 12 and given Leigh Halfpenny a well-deserved night off. While Wales' performance was far from vintage, the experience will probably pay dividends in future years.

It was the night Hallam Amos and Rhodri Williams made their debuts for Wales. Owen Williams and Emyr Phillips had their first experience of a Test match in Cardiff. While England refrained from making changes from game to game, partly due to injury, Gatland has used the opportunity to hand key experience to new faces. It was a risk, but it paid off. Next up is Australia and after that game you feel he will have a real idea of where his team are as the World Cup comes ever closer.

Shambolic TMOs

France battled valiantly against the Springboks and eventually lost out by a nine-point deficit. But it should have been a lot more. In the third minute of the second-half, Jaque Fourie went over for what looked to be a legitimate try. Wayne Barnes checked with the TMO over whether Morne Steyn had knocked it on in the build-up, the correct decision as it's better to check whether a try is good than award it only to have missed something in the run-up.

That's what TMOs are there for. But what followed was bizarre.

The weekend's awards

  • Player: Israel Folau, simply superb
  • Team: New Zealand, an unbeaten year is a fine feat
  • Coach: Joe Schmidt; he managed to get his Ireland team back on song after a horrendous performance against Australia
  • Disappointment: The pitches around Europe
  • Quote: "We like to sit as coaches and take a lot of the credit for it but you can't put in what God left out and he stood in the front of a few genetic queues" - Scott Johnson on Israel Folau
  • Agonising defeat: Ireland

Commentators, spectators and players alike seemed to accept Morne Steyn's flapping attempt at catching the ball saw the pill go backwards, at worse flat, but for whatever reason, Iain Ramage deemed it to have gone forwards. An abysmal decision but one that thankfully did not have an impact on the eventual outcome.

A great occasion at the Allianz

It flew under the radar a bit this weekend, but there was a fantastic match at the Allianz Stadium as the USA took on Russia. With Chris Wyles, Samu Manoa and Blaine Scully on show, the match had plenty of Aviva Premiership class and all on the artificial surface at the Allianz. It was a great advert for international rugby as the USA emerged 28-7 victors but it's just a shame that not more people witnessed it.

The attendance in the stadium was low and the Americans were prevented from streaming the match online as USA rugby was, as it said in a statement from CEO Nigel Melville, "told late in the week prior to the match technical issues would force a significant increase in price of the stream. Reluctantly, we both agreed the cost was prohibitive and we would not stream."

Melville continued: "In the future, we will not be playing games in Europe where we cannot get an appropriate feed and will do better by having more control over the broadcast elements of our fixtures."

The IRB is preaching the worldwide message, but more needed to be done to make it accessible.

Wallabies gamble pays off

Suspending six players before a Test match is a risky business, but it paid off for Ewen McKenzie. The match at Murrayfield between Scotland and Australia will not be mentioned in the same breath as the epic which followed in Dublin on Sunday, but it was a win for the Wallabies which shows the McKenzie revolution is slowly gathering pace. He is asserting his blueprint on the side and leaving them under no illusions as to the standards he expects from a Test team. They will reap the long-term benefits.

Even in defeat, performance gives Ireland foundations

You have to feel for the Irish. They were painstakingly close to getting their first win over New Zealand in 28 attempts. For Brian O'Driscoll, it was not a lucky 13th crack at the Kiwis. They will take time to recover from their heartbreaking last-gasp loss to New Zealand but it could prove to be the making of this team. Some of their number are in the twilight years of their career but for others, such as Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy, they still have plenty of gas left in the tank. Ireland need to find a way of bottling this hurt and using it as a driving force in future matches.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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