The Ireland Vs All Blacks Game That Completely Changed Rugby Forever

Brutal.

Less than 12 months on from that famous victory in Dublin, Ireland and the All Blacks meet again this Saturday in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland come into the game as massive underdogs following a poor run of form in 2019, but it’s Joe Schmidt’s side who have the better head-to-head record in recent years.

The men in green have won two of their last three games against the current world champions, beating them in Chicago back in 2016 before that victory at the Aviva last year.

Their only loss to New Zealand in this World Cup cycle came shortly after that first-ever win at Soldier Field. It was a brutal contest in the Aviva Stadium that ultimately forced World Rugby to take a look at the safety of their players.

Why so? Because of the sheer brutality that the All Blacks used on the day to ensure victory – fuelled by their first-ever loss to Ireland. Steve Hansen’s men were not going to lose a second successive game to Joe Schmidt’s side. No way.

Ireland were bullied to the point where safety had gone out the window. The tackling from New Zealand was not only brutal – it was dangerous and deserved to be punished. On the day they got away with it but going forward this could not continue.

Three challenges, in particular, enraged not only Ireland fans, but fans of the sport itself. Robbie Henshaw was taken out in the first-half by Sam Cane, CJ Stander by Dagg not long after. And of course, let’s not forget about that decapitating tackle on Simon Zebo by Malakai Fekitoa.

For Cane’s challenge, he quite clearly hits Henshaw with a shoulder into the head with force. Since then we’ve seen red cards for much less (Danny Cipriani on Rory Scannell for one), yet the All Black flanker wasn’t even yellow-carded on the day.

It’s clear red card these days and to make matters worse, somehow Cane was even was cleared after the game by the citing commission. Robbie Henshaw meanwhile suffered a concussion.

With Israel Dagg’s hit on CJ Stander, the fullback makes no attempt to wrap with his arms and hits the number eight with a brutal shoulder onto the top of his head, resulting in another concussion. Sanction today– red card. But Dagg escaped the ref, the TMO and the citing commission once again.

And then there’s the worst one of them all – Malakai Fekitoa’s decapitating tackle on Simon Zebo. Somehow the centre escaped with just a yellow card for the horrific challenge on the day despite it being a clear red card offence.

Thankfully a citing commission later ruled it was a red card offence and he subsequently received a ban. But it was too little, too late for Ireland.

Just one week after this game, World Rugby were forced to make adjustments to the laws of the game, introducing revised sanctions and a new framework regarding high tackles in particular.

“That one probably went over the edge, didn’t it?,” Johnny Sexton said last year when asked about that 2006 meeting in Dublin.

“I think that game changed a lot, going forward.”

“That was a massive moment where high tackles suddenly became what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.

“After that, I feel that things changed and you wouldn’t get away with that now.”

Since then officials have been showing a record number of yellow and red cards and while the “rugby’s gone soft” brigade aren’t happy, ultimately it’s what’s best for the game, and more importantly the players.

Without them, there is no game. Safety is paramount. We want to see the best players protected so that they can have long and successful careers. And we don’t want to see teams resulting to brutality in order to win a Test match.

Ireland may not have won that day in Dublin. But the game most certainly did. World Rugby was forced to act and while there’s still plenty of work to do – they’re on the right track.