Analysis: Ioane’s emotions were running high after the All Blacks’ win over Ireland because there was an element of revenge involved, writes Patrick McKendry in Paris.
The rugby world will have been divided over Rieko Ioane’s gestures to the Irish supporters in the Stade de France crowd following the All Blacks’ recent quarter-final win depending largely on national loyalties.
‘Classless’, as some sections of the Irish media suggested, or an outpouring of emotion at the end of an epic Test match that Ioane would have felt righted a few wrongs from last year when Ireland beat the All Blacks in a series at home for the first time?
It may be worth attempting to put it all into context because this result had been a long time coming for the All Blacks who were rocked by that series result and had insult added to injury via loose forward Peter O’Mahony’s infamous crack at skipper Sam Cane being a poor Richie McCaw or similar.
That Johnny Sexton got involved with Ioane at the end was probably no surprise, either.
The Ireland captain, it should be noted, is one of the more vocal players on the field and carries with him a sense of entitlement that doesn’t go down well with some opposition players.
He has been a great and influential player for Ireland but isn’t exactly blemish free when it comes to post-match venting himself.
In July, he was fined $15,000 and banned for three World Cup warm-up matches for verbally abusing match officials at the end of his Leinster club’s narrow Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle in May.
The disciplinary committee’s report concluded: “It included his pointing his finger at them and shouting at them something to this effect: “it’s a disgrace you guys can’t get the big decisions right” probably accompanied by expletives “most likely the f-word”.
Sexton wasn’t even playing in that match — he had been sidelined by a groin injury.
It has been reported that after being offended by Ioane’s actions in Paris, Sexton attempted to put the All Blacks midfielder in his place only to be told to enjoy retirement and ensure he didn’t miss the plane home, or words to that effect.
Similarly, Brodie Retallick apparently reprised a variation on the “four more years” reminder to O’Mahony made famous 20 years ago by former Wallaby George Gregan.
“Look, it happens on a rugby park, it happens on most sporting parks when tensions are high and there is a lot at stake,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster said.
“Players from both teams, and all teams, occasionally want to say a few words to each other. And that is the nature of the game.
“Unfortunately, recently it’s also included players saying a few things to referees. Is it a blight on the game? I don’t know, it’s always been there. It’s highly competitive and you don’t hear a lot of players complaining about it.”
Foster may have been referring to Sexton here. But the Irish skipper isn’t the only player who has put subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on match officials at this tournament.
If the All Blacks face England next weekend in either the final or playoff for third and fourth there will inevitably be a focus on how skipper Owen Farrell injects himself into the officials’ decision making at every opportunity despite not having a squeaky-clean disciplinary record himself.
England, criticised around the rugby world for celebrating their small wins on the field with an enthusiasm out of proportion to their achievements, play South Africa in their semifinal in Paris on Sunday NZT.
Many will applaud their emotional and natural response when they win a scrum or a penalty. Others find it a little distasteful.
The world champion Springboks are also a relatively emotional side as evidenced by their celebrations at the end of their one-point quarter-final win over France but are so tightly controlled by their coaching staff that their on-field decisions are dictated by a series of “traffic lights” held by director of rugby Rassie Erasmus in the grandstand.
Looking at the bigger picture, it may be worth having a conversation around what is more offensive to the game: a relatively harmless outpouring of emotion by a player such as Ioane, a 26-year-old celebrating an epic quarter-final victory, or players having decisions made for them by a coach on a sideline.
“I think it is also a little bit of different players’ and different personalities coming out in those moments,” All Blacks skipper Sam Cane said.
“When you are out there, I don’t think it matters what level of sport, there is always people who have different tactics and their emotions can run high and words are said.
“It is always just left out there.”
But never, ever, forgotten.
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