Ireland’s infamous win over the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016 was celebrated as the coming of age for Irish rugby, securing their first-ever win over New Zealand.
The Irish had a chance to replicate the deed two weeks later on home turf at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin but were met by an All Blacks side hellbent on retribution.
It became known as the ‘Black-lash’ test that shone a light on the game’s tackle laws and may have even by the catalyst for radical changes that were widely criticized during the 2019 Rugby World Cup three years later.
Irish fans were left fuming as the on-field casualties piled up by reckless and punishing hits, while the All Blacks racked up a 14-4 penalty count against them.
“I thought I was at the Colosseum on Saturday night,” Irish journalist Paul Kimmage said on The Last Word radio show, going on to describe the game as ‘deeply disturbing’.
“It was probably the most compelling sporting event I’ve been at this year. Just absolutely compelling. Riveting viewing. But deeply, deeply disturbing.”
“What happened to Robbie Henshaw is a disgrace. I think there was three head injuries, a number of neck injuries, and I think this is something that the sport really, really needs to be addressed.”
Irish centre Robbie Henshaw left the field on a stretcher in the 10th minute after a high tackle from Sam Cane.
Bouncing off the first tackle of Kieran Read, Henshaw was met head-on by Cane where he was blunted in a shoulder-to-head tackle that left him unconscious.
A number of other Irish players were also on the receiving end of high challenges, and Malakai Fekitoa was yellow-carded in the second half after a high shot on Simon Zebo.
At least 11 incidents referred to citing commissioner following NZ win. Just 1 Irish player! At least 10 for All Blacks.. unprecedented!
— Darren Frehill (@Darrenfrehill) November 21, 2016
The biggest problem with Sam Cane not getting a card is that it gave NZ licence to go high again. They knew what they could get away with.
— Neil Treacy (@neil_treacy) November 20, 2016
That was a shocking high tackle on Henshaw yesterday, arms etc irrelevant it was high, high, high
— John Beattie (@BBCJohnBeattie) November 20, 2016
Even former England international Jeremy Guscott waded in to the debate, calling for referees to ‘look harder at New Zealand’.
“The All Blacks have to watch their high tackles – they have got a reputation for it and have had two players cited from Saturday,” he wrote for BBC Sport.
“They understand the laws of the game, where the boundaries are and how the referee might react. They use it to their advantage.”
“Referees need to look harder at New Zealand – their speed and intensity means the game moves so quickly, but they are canny.”
Captain Rory Best called for World Rugby to make the game safer in the post-match press conference, which they did, implementing much tougher penalties for contact with the head.
Overshadowed in the wash-up was a man-of-the-match performance by Beauden Barrett that sealed the first of his back-to-back World Rugby Player of the Year awards.
Barrett was involved in all of the All Blacks tries, including one for himself while coming up with a crucial try-saving tackle on Sean O’Brien in the 21-9 win.
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