Irish undone by All Black class
By: Cillian Ó Conchúir | Published Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 2:46 PM | Updated Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 2:46 PM
"Rory Best is going for an operation on his cheekbone on Monday," said Irish Coach Declan Kidney. "Brian (O'Driscol) has gone for an Xray on his shoulder, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald will have knee scans tomorrow. I wouldn't like to pre-empt any medical opinion - I would just be guessing. And Gordan D'Arcy and Tommy Bowe have tight calves, but we would be hoping they will recover in time (for next week against Argentina)."
It may have taken the arrival of the All Blacks but finally the Aviva got an atmosphere worthy of an international fixture, and despite what the scoreline 38-18 suggests, the Irish players responded heroically as the injury list suggests.
From the first whistle, Ireland and New Zealand played the kind of attacking rugby that was well worth the entrance fee. Dan Carter (on 6, 15 and 29 minutes) and Jonathan Sexton (on 10 and 25 minutes) traded penalties but the Irish defense otherwise held firm.
Their resolute defense was epitomized by the number of injuries to key players noted by Kidney. Gordan D'Arcy, for one, put his body on the line to stop New Zealand captain Richie McCaw and later hooker Hika Elliot from breaking through the Irish defense.
Sexton's restart (following Carter's third penalty) dropped just outside the All Black 22. Rob Kearney touched the ball back on the Irish side and Paddy Wallace dived on the ball to maintain possession. Quick ball from the resulting ruck was capitalised on by the Irish as a flat pass from Jamie Heaslip sent Stephen Ferris clear. The Ulsterman touched down to send Irish fans into wonderland with eight minutes left before the break.
But for all Ireland's good work, errors, which Kidney later put down to "trying too hard" gifted New Zealand an opportunity immediately after the try. A Sexton knock on gave New Zealand a scrum from which Ireland were penalised and Carter closed the margin to within a point with a fourth penalty of the half, 13-12.
When McCaw made his debut 9 years ago against Ireland, the Irish gave away 3 penalties in the 80 minutes, none of which were in their own half. This time, they were far more generous to the All Blacks.
Despite the willingness to concede penalties, the Irish defense held the All Black at bay as wave after wave of attack neared the Irish line. That was until a minute before the break, when Anthony Boric barged his way over the line, with Carter adding the conversion.
The try before half-time left Ireland six behind at 13-19, and while Ireland were down, New Zealand were brutally effective. New Zealand began the second half as they ended the first but a saving tackle from Ferris denied full back Mils Muliaina from stretching the All Black advantage.
But there is a reason why the All Blacks have never lost against Ireland. And for the opening 10 minutes of the second half the Kiwis were breathtakingly efficient. On 45 minutes, Kieran Read went over to cement New Zealand's dominance. Carter added the conversion, and New Zealand never looked like relinquishing their lead, at 26-13.
Keith Earls then replaced the injured Luke Fitzgerald, but as David Wallace knocked on in midfield the All Blacks showed their quality. New Zealand spread the ball wide and Richie McCaw offloaded (what seemed like a forward pass) to Sam Whitelock to go over in the corner. The tempo and guile with which the New Zealand backs attacked showed why they are the best team in world rugby. Carter put the finishing touch to the move with a conversion, to make it 33-13 with just eight minutes gone in the second half.
A breakaway from Jamie Heaslip on 54 minutes had the entire Irish nation willing him towards the line, but the flanker didn't have the legs to beat two covering All Black players to the line.
As Ireland went through phase after phase, they finally got the reward they were looking for, two minutes later. When Rob kearney's pass failed to find Heaslip, the attack appeared dead, but Brian O'Driscol picked up the ball with one hand and brought the Aviva to its feet with a superb try. Kidney later told the media that O'Driscol had gone for an Xray on his shoulder after the game, but played through the injury which he picked up in the first half. Sexton's resulting conversion hit the upright, leaving the score 33-18.
The All Blacks brought on Sonny-Bill Williams to try to inject the same urgency that blew Ireland away in the opening ten minutes of the second half, but the All Blacks seemed to know they were out of sight. With six minutes to go, and as Ireland piled on the pressure, the TMO ruled that substitute Keith Earls was in touch before going over the line.
To reinforce their attacking brilliance, Read went over at the death for his second try of the game in the dying moments. Quick passing across the New Zealand backline, left a tired Ireland chasing shadows and Read with the easiest of chances, putting gloss on a not so comfortable 38-18 win. While the full scale of the Irish defensive effort was disclosed by Kidney, the disappointment was evident on the faces of his players, who spoke to the media afterwards.