Dwyer's attack on McCaw adds spice to Ireland Test

Former Australia coach accuses All Blacks captain of persistent law violations
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Richie McCaw, widely regarded as the best all-round rugby player in the world who leads New Zealand against Ireland at Croke Park today, consistently breaks the laws of the game, former World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer claimed last night.

Dwyer, who coached Australia's 1991 winners, outlined a measured yet devastating indictment of McCaw's play and the referees whom, he claimed, allow the All Blacks captain to get away with it. "In my view Richie is a great player, probably the best in the world," said the Australian. "But he gets away with illegality partly because he has taken over the mantle of the No 1 referee in the world from Sean Fitzpatrick. There is an absolutely widespread belief outside New Zealand that this is the case.

"We think he is allowed by referees to make his first point of entry [at the breakdown] at which he claims a shot at the opposition ball, from the side rather than going in through what is called 'the rear gate'. He then swings the rest of his body around so he finishes up in an illegal position, shutting off any opponent from getting the ball. Illegally, he has denied the opposition a shot at possession. On your own ball, referees seem to allow this entry from the side."

Dwyer's comments come in the light of an edict issued by the International Rugby Board this week in which referees were reminded of their obligation to operate a zero-tolerance policy towards illegal entry, hands in the ruck, sealing off the ball, illegal clearing out and illegal scrum feeds.

But the Australian countered: "I have a few questions concerning this 'directive'. Does the law concerning entry apply equally to the team in possession and the defending team? If so, what sanctions will apply to referees ignoring the directive – viz, all referees. Does the law concerning 'sealing off the ball' apply to all teams, including NZ, who consistently go over the ball en masse? At present, there seems to be some other, more private, directive to referees, which informs that none of these contents apply to Richie McCaw."

Dwyer's advice to Ireland ahead of today's Test match is intriguing: "Moving the ball is entirely in line and supportive of the skills of the Ireland pack because they get around the field very well. They also assemble large numbers at the breakdown. You can do things with the ball close to the breakdown in a game where the opposition does not want to commit too many people to that area."

Which is true, but the question remains whether Ireland can match the physicality of the All Blacks' loose forward trio. They will need to halt them close to the gain line to stop Ronan O'Gara's uncertain defence being exposed. At half-back, Ireland have gambled by giving Munster's Tomas O'Leary his international Test debut, ahead of Eoin Reddan.

It could be a smart move if O'Leary can conquer his nerves and produce his best. But against New Zealand, it will be tough.

It should concern Ireland that the All Blacks have been talking them up all week. Coach Graham Henry recognises this will probably be his team's toughest Test of the autumn tour and an 82,000-capacity crowd at Croke Park will make it harder. "Ireland showed passion and physicality when they played us in New Zealand earlier in the year, and we are expecting another tough Test match," he said.

Brian O'Driscoll leads his country for the 50th time today, aware they have never beaten New Zealand in 21 attempts. This one might be closer than many people think.

Ireland: G Dempsey (Leinster); T Bowe (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (capt), L Fitzgerald, R Kearney (all Leinster); R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan (all Munster), R Best (Ulster), J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, A Quinlan, D Wallace (all Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs), J Rokocoko (Blues), C Smith, M Nonu (both Hurricanes), S Sivivatu (Waikato); D Carter (Crusaders), J Cowan (Highlanders); A Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues), N Tialata (Hurricanes), B Thorn (Crusaders), A Williams (Blues), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), R So'oialo (Hurricanes).

Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).