I went to see Placido Domingo sing in London a while back. Great night, lovely dinner and fine wine beforehand and front-row seats. I didn't like him though, terrible, miserable old goat. He doesn't like you joining in, does he?
I heard Jerry Guscott and Keith Wood talking on the radio on the Friday before the England game last week. After soaking up the atmosphere prior to the Ireland v England match in 2007, it was the first time that Guscott said he would have been tempted to throw on his gear and join in the match. If he had known what the score was going to be maybe he would have thought twice.
For the purposes of self-preservation, I would have had very little inclination to join the fray last week. As the game evolves on its current course, the skills deficit becomes more pronounced and the surfeit and requirement to use force and aggression becomes more evident. Exceptionally powerful 18-19 are stone men running into each other at collision speeds of 30mph and without any restraint or guiding light from the law makers in the IRB, the tackles will become substantially more aggressive as the notion of controlling a game is to hit harder than you did the previous year to stop your opponent. Skin, muscle, ligamenture and bone were not designed to sustain this type of punishment. I can see class actions from crippled players 10 to 15 years down the line. There will at some stage have to be constraints imposed on players to protect themselves as the game hurtles to a form of UFC with a ball.
Problems too for the system to protect the players. Brian O'Driscoll was on the receiving end of a tackle which brought back memories of the spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu on the 2005 Lions Tour. The fact that the appointed citing commissioner failed to take any action doubles the sense of grievance and gives you no sense of justice, governance or proper redress for an act which I though was cynical and extremely dangerous.
When the trip switch or safety valve isn't activated I have to speak up. I watched Riki Flutey's 'tackle' on O'Driscoll about 30 times, in super slo-mo on HD and there is no question in my mind what happened.
In a Daily Mirror article headlined "England star Riki Flutey is gunning for Brian O'Driscoll", Flutey had previously stated "I know what I have to do. It's clear in my mind." That was an unfortunate choice of words in light of what happened on the pitch.
A few minutes before Flutey's 'tackle', O'Driscoll came forward to make an aggressive but legal tackle on Flutey. Flutey caught O'Driscoll with the bent elbow to the face. Depending on the ref, the only thing to debate was the colour of the card. Certainly a citable office. It wasn't spotted by the ref. So a little bit of previous as the main event unfolded a few minutes later.
From loose play the ball ended up in O'Driscoll's hands. Flutey was, as O'Driscoll stood, to his left and O'Driscoll needed to clear the ball to the right-hand touchline. For whatever reason, O'Driscoll was slow to clear which is why a legitimate challenge was on. The first angle shown by the cameras wouldn't necessarily show you what happened but at the time I did ask myself why did Flutey not go low and attempt to block the kick? If the kick had been blocked Ireland would have been in serious trouble. Looking from the second angle, the stills alongside shows how Flutey is late for the ball and is nowhere near low enough to be in a legitimate tackling position. As still three shows, where the number 12 collides with the Ireland captain, this is a serious collision of heads which could have appalling consequences.
In O'Driscoll's position on the field and about to kick, he needed three eyes – peripheral vision to see who was coming from the left, one eye to pick a target area on the touchline and one to keep an eye on the ball as he kicked it. O'Driscoll was defenceless – he had two hands holding the ball and his vision was 95 per cent geared to effecting a good clearance with his right. He wasn't expecting what came next.
Flutey's tackle came in the form of a flying head butt, not with the forehead but with the crown of his head and made heavy contact with O'Driscoll's left cheekbone. The commentators on review were incorrect in stating that Flutey lead with the shoulder. The fact that Flutey's left arm didn't wrap around O'Driscoll's body could have disguised or distracted from the significance of the hit. It wasn't a body check. You don't have to be a professor of dynamics to see that the first point of contact was the head to the cheekbone. Flutey's left shoulder had very little to do with O'Driscoll's reflexive backward movement.
If you look at Flutey's eye line, he wasn't looking at the ball or at O'Driscoll's hips to see if he was set to move out of the tackle. He was looking at O'Driscoll's head. What happened next was cynical and extremely dangerous.
The cheekbone/eye-socket area of the skull are very easy to fracture – particularly if hit by a hard surface at pace. If O'Driscoll had had to leave the field, it would have been debatable if Ireland could have won. No try, no man-of-the-match performance, no Grand Slam, and no Lions.
I am amazed that O'Driscoll didn't break any bones. I am even more amazed that Achille Reali, the Italian Citing Commissioner, did not cite Flutey. Cite him immediately. The Italian reviewed the match and was asked by the Irish management specifically to look at the Flutey/O'Driscoll incident. I cannot believe that he chose to do nothing. He has a duty of care to protect players and hand down appropriate bans to players who commit acts of foul play. I would have to say that he should consider his position if he thinks that Flutey has no case to answer.
I'm not sure what Mr Reali's rugby pedigree is or what his profession is either, nor am I sure what qualifies him to be an independent citing commissioner, but I hope that he is assessed on a continual basis and that either the IRB or the Board of the Six Nations review the incident and take appropriate action. Mr Reali did not wish to field any questions from the Sunday Tribune – so his side of the argument is not available. Willem Venter, the independent citing commissioner for the first Lions test against New Zealand didn't have a huge amount to say after that incident either.
The bottom line is that rugby is a game of primal ferocity, played though in the right spirit by high-performance athletes who are capable of killing an average human being with their bare hands. If somebody transgresses and the act goes unpunished by the appointed guardians of the game, then the law of the jungle will apply. In the meantime Ireland's management must bite their lip and thank God their captain is fit and available for the Scottish game because midfield is where the game will be won against Scotland and Ireland have a decision to make.
England and their media think that England threw the game away and they have a point. Phil Vickery alone gave away five penalties, three more than Ireland gave away against France in the entire match. England shouldn't have been even close and the fact that they were came down to our number 12 who had a disastrous last three minutes.
In the 77th minute with England having notionally conceded the match, Ireland were attacking near England's 22 from an orthodox line movement. Paddy Wallace spilled the ball while under minimal pressure and the ball was turned over. England attacked and Wallace missed a straight-up tackle on Mark Cueto, who was brought down eight metres behind the Irish defensive line. Cueto's run sucked in three defenders and suddenly there was space from the recycle.
Andy Goode took the ball but was tackled low by Paul O'Connell, meaning the English out-half wasn't going anywhere. Wallace's tackle of the second part wasn't even close to being effective – a simple wrap would have ensured that Goode couldn't off-load. The tackle was weak and Goode off-loaded to Mike Tindall, who forged through the Irish defence. Rob Kearney got Tindall eventually and as the Irish defence streamed back, Wallace staood behind the ruck and poked his head into the break-down when there was danger on either side. Gordon D'Arcy must come back in next Saturday.
In the vernacular there are 262 alternatives for the word shite but none of them can even come close to describing how bad the Scotland v Italy match was, or indeed how dreadfully ordinary Scotland are. Everybody talks about how brilliant Scotland will be now that they have Euan Kennedy back. In my experience I have never seen a tight-head prop win a match for his team. The match will be won in the out-field.
Scotland's defensive line was static, un-even, had no uniformity and there were gaps all over the park. If we attack with ball in hand and play at pace we will win with a lot to spare. If we play hoist-bosh it will be a long day.
PS Good to see Stephen Jones of the Sunday Times still has a sense of humour in his player ratings:
Nick Easter 8
Brian O'Driscoll 7