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Tyrone Howe: Dish out bans to uphold the spirit of game

The luck of the Irish could not have been more of a misnomer last weekend in Cardiff.

The level of human error was enormous and incredible but certainly not unforgivable, as Brian O’Driscoll stated in the post-match heat of the moment.

No player goes out to make a mistake intentionally and neither do officials. I feel extremely sorry for touch judge Peter Allan, as I do for Paddy Wallace who backed himself in the dying embers of the game.

You make a decision and you have to deal with the consequences. I understand what Wallace was trying to do, but it was clearly the wrong choice and criticism is the direct and fair result. Nevertheless, it is only sport, and there is too great a tendency to lose a sense of perspective, particularly when there is such an eerie silence about the brazen cheek of the Welsh players involved.

While Peter Allan apologised, apparently Wales scrum half, Mike Phillips, is happy to take his “slice of luck”.

This comment is the real embarrassment, as it completely goes against the spirit of the game. Of course, players live life on the edge of the law whether slowing the ball down at the breakdown or flirting with the offside line. It is a fact of life and sport, but this successful attempt to hoodwink the officials was at the upper end of the questionable scale.

Professionalism is often blamed for a win at all costs mentality. You only have to think of Thierry Henry in France’s World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland or Diego Maradona’s ‘hand of God’. There is plenty of observational evidence that with increasing salaries, rugby is edging towards some of the worst excesses of football. One hopes that this is not an inevitable slide — imagine the dark day if supporters have to be segregated. Therefore, rugby needs to differentiate itself, but does it have the courage to introduce further measures into its code?

We already have a Citing Commissioner, but there are grounds to introduce additional retrospective powers. Nothing can change the try or the result, but the Commissioner’s responsibilities could be extended to include gross acts of unsporting behaviour and bringing the game into disrepute. A playing ban could be handed down to the individuals — this would have a direct financial effect on the players and the team would suffer in terms of selection.

Mike Phillips try had a major effect on the game, but it certainly did not make defeat inevitable. When he touched down there were still 30 minutes on the clock and Ireland did not score one solitary point in the second half. The major problem didn’t lie with the officials.

England clearly represents the biggest test of self-examination for Ireland, both in terms of the quality of the opposition and also what the Ireland players will have to do in order to give themselves the best chance of victory. Above all, England like to play with pace, therefore Ireland have to slow down the quality and tempo of England’s ball. In other words, Ireland have to ferociously contest the breakdown. Yet, this is the very area which has presented the most difficulty and where Ireland seem to have a continual habit of giving away penalities.

While Flood and Wilkinson have rare off-days with the boot, Ireland have no choice, they have got to compete but be far smarter than at any time in this Six Nations. This makes for an intriguing battle, but it is one that Ireland can win. Mike Ford did his job well as Irish defensive coach and Wales looked as if they could hammer away all day and still not come away with a try. Ford is continuing this with England — two mean defences mean huge collisions and fine margins. Defence, discipline and turning territory into points will be key.

England should win the Six Nations even if they lose on Saturday, but it will count for nothing as their glass will feel half empty.

An Irish victory will offer a well-needed top-up, and amnesia will set in as we all forget our frustrations — well for a while anyway. Defeat, however, will condemn this Six Nations as a tournament to forget for the men in green.

Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Timbuktoo and the rest of the civilised world has its fingers crossed for an Ireland triumph this Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph

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