By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – The tackles that the All Blacks got away with in their victory over Ireland in Dublin in 2016 would have been red cards in today’s game and probably changed World Rugby’s thinking on high contact, Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton said on Friday.
“As far as that last game went, that was almost the turning point for a lot of the rule changes about high tackles,” Sexton told reporters at Tokyo Stadium ahead of their World Cup quarter-final with the All Blacks on Saturday.
“Some of the yellow cards that were given out and some things that were missed, they would be reds now.
“They probably weren’t intentional at the time, but if they happened now there would be bigger consequences.”
The All Blacks were accused of thuggery in the 21-9 victory, two weeks after they suffered their first loss to Ireland when Joe Schmidt’s side produced a superb 40-29 victory at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Former Ireland players, fans and northern hemisphere media reacted furiously to the match, with Mick Kearney, who was Ireland manager at the time, claiming that 11 of 12 incidents reviewed by the citing commissioner were by the All Blacks.
Former Ireland international Neil Francis, who criticised the All Blacks in 2016, also raised the spectre of uncontrolled aggression arising again in the quarter-final in his Irish Independent column on Thursday.
“We know what is going to happen – it will be a match of unprecedented aggression and while both sides are capable of playing flowing rugby, I fear the first half in particular will be remembered for each side’s ability to inflict grievous damage on the other,” Francis wrote.
“The All Blacks now know Ireland are not afraid of them and also know that they can be turned over, this is far from a vintage New Zealand team.”
Sexton, however, said the All Blacks would be keen not to repeat what happened against the Wallabies in Perth in August when lock Scott Barrett was sent off for a high tackle on Michael Hooper.
“I don’t think it will happen again,” Sexton said. “They had a game when they went down to 14 against Australia, so I’m sure their discipline will be very good on the day.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Toby Davis)