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RWC News: Irish claim 'bizarre' spy drama shows Kiwi 'paranoia', Boks send clear message to BOK, Dupont's big fear

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13th October, 2023
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PARIS – Irish media has accused the All Blacks of paranoia after their assistant coach was asked about a team photographer taking snaps at a New Zealand training session.

Mike Catt was asked about the incident at the Ireland media conference on Friday but was baffled by the implication that the Irish were spying.

In a story headlined ‘Ireland brush off bizarre suggestion of spying on All Blacks training as New Zealand paranoia grows’, the Irish Independent said the All Blacks were “apparently annoyed that a photographer affiliated with the Irish team attended the first 15 minutes of their training session yesterday.”

Catt was asked by a Kiwi reporter “did you have a photographer at the All Blacks training session yesterday? Is that something you’d normally do?”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t a part of that, so…” replied Catt. The IRFU’s press officer Peter Breen then clarified that Ireland were unaware of the photographer’s presence at All Blacks training but that under tournament rules there’d be nothing wrong with a photographer attending.

World Rugby official Greg Thomas confirmed there was no reason a Ireland team photographer could not take images in the prescribed window. All teams have to make the first 15 minutes of training open for vision requirements – they usually do warm ups and basic drills in that time to satisfy media requirements before closing the doors to media.

“The rules say yes, as long as they’re standing with the rest of the photographers, they can (attend training),” Thomas said.

“The bizarre exchange perhaps reveals a certain paranoia in the All Blacks’ ranks ahead of Saturday’s game,” reported the Independent.


“In reality, what happened was that with Ireland having a day off the photographer in question, who works for the INPHO agency who are the IRFU’s partners, went and did his job during the time allowed to the world’s media.”

Richie Mo'unga of the All Blacks runs through drills during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at INSEP training grounds on October 12, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Richie Mo’unga of the All Blacks runs through drills during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at INSEP training grounds on October 12, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

‘There’s always pain’

French star Antoine Dupont says he didn’t feel pressured to come back before he was ready despite being named to face South Africa just 24 days after suffering a broken jaw against Namibia.

Asked about his physical and mental condition after the harrowing injury, the former World Player of the Year said: “I feel very good on both counts. At the time, I didn’t know how serious my injury was. I thought the competition was over.

“I had to wait for the tests, the appointment with the surgeon and the operation. My convalescence went well. I was able to return gradually, and I had several weeks to do all that. Today, I’m at the top of my game, physically and technically.”

The star No.9 said he knew he was in trouble as soon as the clash happened.


“It was a difficult moment. I was lucky that my injury happened quite early. It was important to go through all the stages before coming back this weekend,” he said.

His surgeon has suggested he wear a scrum cap during the game – although what use that would be to protect him against a blow on the jaw is anyone’s guess.

He said his return to the field sped up this week when he was able to get into game situations.

“That boosted my confidence. I didn’t feel any pain. That reassured me. It was important to go through all the stages,” Dupont said.

Monday’s clash with South Africa will be a huge test of his recovery.

“In matches with these levels of intensity, there’s always pain, whether physical or mental,” said Dupont. “International matches are always tough. We have to be willing to suffer to achieve what we want.”


His return will give a huge boost to home fans, but he says there was no external pressure on him to come back too soon.

“I didn’t feel any pressure from the staff. If I’m playing today, it’s because all the lights are green and I have the surgeon’s approval. There was no forced decision. We respected the deadlines,” said Dupont.

“The most important thing was how I felt, not to be apprehensive, to feel good. The most important thing was to think about the team before yourself.”

Even the opposition appears happy to have Dupont back.

“Antoine’s a big player and everyone respects him around the world. He’s an important player, the leader of the French team, so it was always going to be a big thing,” said Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi.

“We don’t wish for one another to be injured, we want to see what you can do play against the best so if he is playing, that’s great. I am happy for him. We want to play against the best French side possible.”

Hansen ready to roll


Ireland’s Aussie-born winger Mack Hansen has been declared right to go against New Zealand despite training with strapping on his calf muscle on Friday.

“Mack was as looking as sprightly as ever,” said assistant Mike Catt. “He is all good, running freely.”

Hansen will take his place in a backline that’s humming and, according to Catt, has benefitted from different experiences.

Along with Hansen, Kiwi-born Bundee Aki and Jamison Gibson-Park have been outstanding during the team’s 17-game winning run.

“Just good rugby players ultimately, they love the game,” Catt said of the backline.

“Also, what we have shown over the past three, four years is the togetherness of the backs, like the forwards, as a team, really. Our togetherness is huge and we fully understand what we are trying to achieve.


“The players fully understand what they need to achieve, or want to achieve and now it’s up to them to perform and make sure that happens. 

“But all different types of background – Gaelic [GAA, Gaelic football], whether it’s Aussie Rules for a Mack [Hansen] or something like that. But ultimately, they are nice and calm and their decision-making has been very, very good recently. That’s what we base it on, being calm enough to make the right decisions and the skill becomes easy.”

Boks proud of playing tough but fair

Much is being made of the physicality of the Springboks but they’ve been able to marry power with discipline at the World Cup so far.

Perhaps expecting the crowd to try to influence referee Ben O’Keeffe in Monday’s match, several Boks have made note of their good disciplinary record in the competition.

“Our discipline has been really good – I think we are the only team who haven’t received a yellow card in this tournament. We do play physically, we do play on the edge but we train to tackle correctly and stay onside,” said skipper Siya Kolisi.

“That is why technique is so important. But at the same time, we can’t be worried about doing something crazy. We have to live on the edge, that is what our game is as a South African team, to play as hard as we can for 80 minutes.


“People enjoy rugby because it’s brutal. We need to go forward so our wings and backs can do their thing. I think the ref will be able to manage the game and obviously if we steer clear of anything naughty, we will be alright.”

Siya Kolisi, the South Africa captain, Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe sing their national anthem during the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on August 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Springboks prop Steve Kitshoff was also keen to send a message when asked about the importance of avoiding cards.

“It’s extremely crucial. For us it’s been one of the big focus points, making sure our discipline is in the right place, our tackle heights are spot-on and the way we hit the breakdowns and collisions, so we avoid a card or foul play penalty,” said Kitshoff.

“Especially when it comes to the knockouts, getting your tackle technique right is going to be a key difference in close games.

“If you concede a penalty and yellow card, you give the opposition an opportunity to enter your 22 or kick at goal. Big games like this normally end in small margins on the scoreboard, so we have to do everything we can to get the result in our favour.”

Referee Ben O'Keeffe.

Referee Ben O’Keeffe . (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)


Franco Mostert said the team had studied O’Keeffe during their prep this week.

“You have to analyse the ref, the small stuff, what does he like, how does he like players to talk to him, the respect that you give him,” Mostert said.

“We have leaders like Siya and Duane Vermeulen who have the ability to speak to the referee. With guys like that, you don’t have to focus on the ref, you just focus on your own game.”

The two teams played out a brutal match in Marseille last year with the hosts prevailing 30-26

“We had a look at it during the week. We did a lot of things right in that game,” Kitshoff said. “They got a red card quite early in the game but were still in it right to the end. We took a lot of learnings from it. The experience from that game is going to help us a lot this weekend but we still need to pitch up and play proper rugby on Sunday.”.