Smith will regret not completing All Blacks’ ‘choke’, Sexton truth exposed, time to silence Rassie

At least there was no Qatar-like booze ban at Twickenham. That much came as a relief to so many. How else to cope with such a final madcap?

Despair for New Zealanders, brief elation for England fans and then a profound sense of regret at what might have been. Edith Piaf will surely be the soundtrack in Marcus Smith’s head over the coming weeks and months, years maybe.

The French chanteuse may ‘regrette rien,’ but the young England fly-half will look back on his decision to boot the ball into touch to close out the game as a singular act of missed opportunity. The 23 year old would almost certainly not have done that in Harlequin colors where he has helped complete many a miraculous comeback.

And, it’s fair to say, if Smith had been playing in black, he would have gone for broke. How many times down the years have we seen the All Blacks roll back the stone to rise from the seeming dead ? One vivid occasion at Lansdowne Rd springs immediately to mind if for no other reason that on journalistic deadline such late, late shows are the stuff of nightmares.

Is it unfair to heap so much on Smith? Not really, for this is the very essence of international sport. Smith will come to appreciate that, all the more so given that he had had a pretty fine match up to that point and played his part in that remarkable 19 point about-turn.

He will be the better for it even if he might need one of those drinks to settle his nerves and come to terms with the gnawing reality of that might have been. Certainly the Twickenham crowd went off into the night with those self-same feelings.

Mind you, if England had pulled off their Houdini stunt it would have done them no favors for it would have papered over several cracks. A win would have sent them off into a cloud cuckoo land of euphoria. Instead they now have to knuckle down to prepare for the Springboks coming to Twickenham intent on rounding off their year with a morale-boosting victory at HQ.

Any repeat of that opening 71 minutes by England and they will be in trouble. Eddie Jones’ side are still far from the finished article. They were taken apart by the All Blacks, unable to cope with the intensity and ingenuity of their game.

The 21 year old scrum-half, Jack Van Poortvliet was targeted by the Kiwis. It was a nightmare experience for him. There were strong performances from the bench, though, in lock David Ribbans and two-try prop, Will Stuart. But England got out of jail. And they shouldn’t disappoint themselves otherwise.

As for New Zealand, this was a choke. There will be a large rock under their pillows during the summer months as they ponder their collapse. As with England, they can’t comfort themselves with the thought that they finished off a tricky year with six successive wins and a draw. This was one that got away and showed that there are still fault lines that need to be repaired ahead of the 2023 World Cup. They have improved but there is still much to do.

Ireland Without Sexton and Ireland With Sexton

The late withdrawal of their talisman and aged flyhalf, Johnny Sexton, illuminated just how dependent Ireland’s prospects for World Cup glory actually are on his fitness. Sure, Ireland edged home, 13-10, through Ross Byrne’s late penalty goal to equal the record of 12 successive home wins but it was a stodgy, stop-start performance.

Ireland are not the same punchy, decisive, coherent force without Sexton. Getting him to the start line in France next year is Project All-Important, a tough assignment give that Sexton will be 38 by the time the tournament kicks off. Mind you, better to be headed towards that global showpiece with victories over New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in a calendar year (the first European side to do that since England in 2002) than have to deal with the likely fall-out coming the way of the Wallabies with their wretched win-loss ratio. Australia may only be losing by very small margins but such defeats will be morale-sapping.

What to do with a (nice) problem like Georgia?

Georgia’s 13-12 victory over Wales in Cardiff will quite rightly re-ignite debate over promotion and relegation into the Six Nations. On this showing Wales would be in danger of the dreaded drop.

Perhaps the answer is to consider expanding the tournament to eight teams given that Portugal beat the USA on Friday to qualify for RWC 2023? It’s a tasty conundrum. These teams need all the encouragement on offer, regular and proper fixtures against Tier One nations. If they continually prove themselves, then expansion should be the way forward. Pool C (Australia, Wales, Fiji, Georgia, Portugal) suddenly has a tantalizing appeal.

Owen Farrell – love him or loathe him?

There are a fair few Farrell haters out there and they should hang their heads in shame. Farrell deserves to be up there on the same mantle occupied by a former England flyhalf, Jonny Wilkinson.

ure, Farrell does not have the same Saint Jonny-like demeanor, the same head boy butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth persona, the same every-mother’s-favourite-son appeal.

Farrell shouts at referees, tackles too high, looks grumpy, sounds monosyllabic and plays the percentages rather than lets rip. Well, there is a smidgen of truth in some of that but there is no doubt in my mind that if Owen had stayed in Wigan rugby league country and not been obliged to follow dad, Andy, and family south when the old man hooked up with Saracens in 2005 (that did lead to a few stroppy teenage moments from Owen) then he would now be being feted as one of the finest ever to have played the 13-man code and would have been a star of NRL if he had gone to Australia.

Owen Farrell of England interacts with Ethan de Groot of New Zealand during the Autumn International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on November 19, 2022 in London, England.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Owen Farrell of England interacts with Ethan de Groot of New Zealand during the Autumn International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on November 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Farrell won his 100th cap at Twickenham and it’s only right to tip the hat towards him.

Red Card to Rassie

It’s time World Rugby muzzled Rassie Erasmus. They have tried before but they have failed. When snidey, sniping social media Twitter posts trigger death threats to the likes of Wayne Barnes and his family then it is time to censure the South Africa coach in a big way, be it a permanent touchline ban (which, admittedly, won’t prevent him from tweeting) or a hefty fine for him and/or his union.

Erasmus was banned again for this weekend’s match against Italy and will not be present on the touchline or in the coaches’ box at Twickenham next weekend. Of course officials should not be above criticism. But there is a way and a means.

His supporters say that he is just getting a message out there in the belief that the Springboks are routinely ignored or hard done by. That is so much nonsense. Their World Cup win in 2019, with its story of racial togetherness under Siya Kolisi, drew universal acclaim. Erasmus seems to live by the creed that just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get you. Well, Rassie, you may be a wonderfully inspirational coach but you are letting yourself, your team and your country down. You are better than this. Time to zip it.

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