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Ireland 9-21 New Zealand: Referee Jaco Peyper failed in his duty of care to the players

By Alan Quinlan

Published 21/11/2016

Listen here: Rory Best remonstrates with referee Jaco Peyper during Ireland’s clash with the All Blacks
Listen here: Rory Best remonstrates with referee Jaco Peyper during Ireland’s clash with the All Blacks

First things first, New Zealand were fully deserving of their win. They were the better team and, even with less ball, they were far more clinical than we were.

Everyone knew that New Zealand were going to bring an extra level of aggression and intensity, but some of the things that we saw on Saturday were right on the line of legality.

I know some people will say that is rich coming from me and that's fair enough, but ultimately it was that emotion and real determination that got them the win.

There is definitely a different interpretation of the laws in the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby, but the big thing coming in to the Autumn Series were the new directives from World Rugby about dangerous tackles, particularly around the head and neck area.

Some of the incidents on Saturday should have raised the question about which colour card was merited and not whether it was a card or not.

You look at Sam Cane's tackle on Robbie Henshaw. We're at that place now with tackles that if your arm slips up and you hit a player up around the top of the neck or head area, it's potentially a red card. The fact of the matter is that referee Jaco Peyper did not police that on Saturday.

There is definitely an argument to be made that there was no intent or malice on Cane's part - and I don't think there was - but you're still in a card situation. For me, it's at least a yellow and possibly a red.

Every coach throughout the world has had these new directives explained to them, so it is up to them to relay that information to their players.

It would be naive to think that Steve Hansen and his team didn't speak about that with their players a couple of weeks ago when World Rugby issued the new directives.

I know Joe Schmidt certainly did. He sat the Ireland squad down and showed them examples of such tackles on video.

There is an onus on Cane to go lower. He has to go lower and wrap with his hands. If they clash heads, that's fair enough because it's a collision that can't be stopped.

However, the first point of contact is his shoulder into the top of Henshaw's jaw.

Whether it is accidental or not is irrelevant; there is a duty of care on Cane's part.

This isn't the first time we've spoken about Peyper like this.

Earlier this year, he refereed the Ireland game in Paris and we all know what went on there. The incidents involving Yoann Maestri and Guilhem Guirado on Jonathan Sexton and Dave Kearney went unpunished by Peyper. We cannot keep allowing this to happen.

None of the flashpoints we saw at the Aviva would have happened if Nigel Owens was the referee. You had two teams who were going hell for leather and the aggression levels were going to be up.

Rugby is a contact sport and you have to be tough to play it. There will always be huge physical challenges and it is up to the referee to manage that.

At no stage did Peyper call out the two captains and say, 'it's getting a bit too aggressive, be careful and don't go overboard'.

That's not to say the game was dirty, but you could look at every ruck and probably some of the Irish players as well, who charged into rucks. The big ones, though, were Cane on Henshaw and Malakai Fekitoa on Simon Zebo.

At the start of the month, World Rugby said: "When it comes to foul play, the game is cleaner now than ever before, but, as referees, we must constantly be alert to head-high hits. By taking this strong approach, we are saying to players that tackling an opponent above the shoulder line will not go unpunished."

To the letter of the law, Fekitoa's tackle is a definite red. It is a swinging arm across the neck. What kind of message are we sending out here?

I played pretty abrasively. I have no problem saying that, but I welcomed these laws. I thought they were a really good idea because we are seeing far too many concussions.

We have a situation now where there is a top Test match and there are two major incidents in which the biggest punishment that was handed out is 10 minutes in the sin bin for Fekitoa. Player welfare is bigger than the result and that must always be the case.

It wasn't just New Zealand. You look at Sexton's tackle on Beauden Barrett when he scored his try. People are disputing whether or not the ball was down, but Sexton wraps him around the neck. Even if he holds that ball up, it's a penalty try and probably a yellow card.

There were a lot of neck rolls in the game as well and they just went unpunished. I couldn't believe the TMO was dictating it to the referee. He was deciding the punishment, but the referee has got to make that decision himself.

This isn't about whether we should have won or not. This is about player welfare and it is a genuine concern.

If Cane had been given a yellow card, maybe as much wouldn't have been made about it. A penalty? It's very, very little punishment for Henshaw going off on a stretcher.

Cane and Fekitoa have both since been cited, but that's not much good to Ireland now.

Both incidents should have been dealt with by Peyper.

If you feel that the extra aggression is going unpunished, you will push it to the limits. The referee must take control.

If it doesn't happen in internationals, what's going to happen in an under-age game?

Players have to front up and take the flak. It's important to remember that at the top level referees are getting paid. They must take responsibility.

The better team on the day won, but a better referee could have meant fewer casualties.

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