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Saturday 23 August 2014

The sporting moments that made 2012: Hand of Owens slaps tourists down

NEIL FRANCIS

Published 30/12/2012 | 05:00

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Irish fall short yet again

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This moment normally requires some interplanetary alignment or a metaphysical tangent. Once every 20 years opportunity arrives. You don't want to knock, you just run through that door. Twenty years ago in Dunedin, Ireland lost to the All Blacks by a scoreline of 24-21.

If winger Ronnie Carey had resembled Ronnie Whelan's physique as opposed to Ronnie Corbett's, he would have latched on to the intercepted pass given by Walter Little with those extra couple of inches and gone under the posts to win. The cliché about "the game of inches" never took Carey's length of limb into the equation. The moment passed.

Last June, Ireland played the All Blacks in Christchurch. The All Blacks were burdened with creeping self-doubt and their performance was infused with unusually poor execution of the fundamentals.

An authentic Irish performance of uncompromising honesty and intelligence was blighted by a connected third party. In the annals of heroic failure and sporting inadequacy, where we as a nation play a leading role, the cause of the implosion for once was not in our own hands. Pointing the finger though is no consolation. Ireland had played with vigour and virtue through to the point that the score was 19-all with 12 minutes to go.

The randomness of the penalty awarded by referee Nigel Owens was hard to fathom. He called it "that is not a straight wheel" – when is a wheel ever straight? New Zealand had probably committed three infringements at the same scrum. The gods decree and we bend the knee.

Owens compounded the error a few minutes later. New Zealand pulled themselves together and went through nine or 10 phases 10 metres from the posts. Carter called for the drop goal. With Aaron Smith, the best passing scrumhalf in the world, inexplicably sitting on the bench, Piri Weepu sent out a pass that was twice Carter's standing height.

It was an overhead full arm extension catch and jump with two steps backward before Carter could even think about a drop goal. He missed. Owens decreed that the ball was "touched in flight" as it had been touched by Seán O'Brien – this is where the Welshman erred.

As soon as Ali Williams and Adam Thompson saw that O'Brien had touched the ball, even though they were in front of Carter, they rushed into the in-goal area where Reddan was scampering back trying to take possession of the ball. He gained possession two metres from his own dead ball line and was immediately tackled by the two All Black forwards over that line.

Reddan was tackled out of play by two players who were offside. Owens awarded a five-metre scrum. This time Weepu's pass was direct, Carter scuffed it over; it was agony and it was unmerited and Ireland were denied the incalculable ecstasy of the win. The moment passed. We wait till 2032.

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