Former Ireland International, Shane Byrne, says that “50/50 calls” always go the All Blacks’ way because they intimidate referees.
The No.2 ranked Irish are full of confidence and will take on New Zealand this weekend at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
But Byrne, who faced New Zealand for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, says they will not only be battling one of the most dominant teams in world sport, but also the referee.
“They’re a hard team to play against because you’re not just playing against the way they play. They clearly intimidate referees, they push the law right to the edge,” Byrne says.
“They do things that you normally wouldn’t get away with and that’s something that is very, very frustrating from a player’s point of view,” he says.
For Byrne, New Zealand legend Richie McCaw was a major beneficiary of this, constantly “living on the edge”, with little penalty.
“No one else in the world would have gotten away with that [his aggressive tactics], not just because he was so good at his job but because of who he was and who he played for.”
Big “50/50 calls” that can turn the game rarely go against the Kiwis, he says, and in a game where “the margins are very, very small,” that can prove costly.
Ireland’s coach, Joe Schmidt, echoed this sentiment, highlighting that in Ireland’s last match with New Zealand, many bizarre decisions went against them.
It was a controversial game in which many felt that two of New Zealand’s players deserved red cards.
Schmidt, a New Zealander himself, says “I think people can make their own minds up about those [decisions].”
“There were decisions made by the referee that befuddled everybody,” says Schmidt.
New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen, was bullish after that game, rubbishing suggestions the All Blacks are a “dirty side” and arguing their tactics were within the laws of the game.
Both sides are looking for bragging rights and mental edge heading into next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Hansen says Ireland’s rise in the world rankings has been impressive and his side are out to prove they are still the world’s best.
“These are the type of test matches that gets everyone up. It’s number one versus number two and there’s a real excitement that’s building as we get closer to Saturday.”
Schmidt says Ireland is more than ready for the challenge and we should expect “a spiky contest” this weekend.