Old order restored but Ireland push All Blacks to limit
Ireland 9 New Zealand 21
If you were tuned in to Radio One late yesterday morning you might have been stopped in your tracks by the sound of Brent Pope's plea for clemency for his native New Zealand.
He drew a fairly preposterous analogy that for Ireland to beat New Zealand twice running would be like someone "taking away the GAA from Ireland." The gist of it was that because rugby is part of the fabric of New Zealand, a means of national expression, that defeat would do damage on a scale unthinkable. So we should spare a thought for them in their hour of need. Relax Popey.
The prospect of Ireland lurking beneath the waterline and doing a Rainbow Warrior on the Kiwis was clearly considered unlikely by the bookies, who gave the home team a 16 points start, just two weeks after they had beaten the same opposition by 11. Does that constitute a record?
In this case the bookies were not far off the mark. But everyone got their money's worth from a cracking Test match that, predictably, saw New Zealand dodge the hail of bullets that would have come their way for back to back defeats against a side who up to a fortnight ago had, historically, been their whipping boys. And Ireland, to their credit, played a bit themselves, despite being hobbled by a triple whammy that had shades of the France game in the World Cup about it. Though with a different result this time.
In the space of 11 minutes in the first half here they lost Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton and CJ Stander. For the centre and flanker that was like a haulier being told that two of his fleet of six 18 wheelers were off the road. And it's peak season. As for Sexton, you couldn't put a value on his loss.
The pressure that put on those left was enormous. No one reacted better than Jamie Heaslip, winning his 90th cap. If he has ever been better over the previous 89 then we don't recall it. And Sean O'Brien was up there with him. On low fuel he put in an awesome performance, and Stander's demise meant that there would be no rest, for Josh van der Flier - developing into a player of real Test quality - was on the field earlier than planned. Garry Ringrose, on for Henshaw, did very well, even though his carrying is hardly in Henshaw's class.
Henshaw was knocked out when Sam Cane caught him high with a shoulder. Asked would he be speaking to his players about the number of high shots, especially given the directive on the issue last week from World Rugby, coach Steve Hansen said: "Yes." Next question.
In that regard double try-scorer Malakai Fekitoa was blessed not to see red when he clothes-lined Simon Zebo in the second half. Aaron Smith was also binned, for a professional foul in the first half. It was explosive stuff, with Rory Best regularly in Peyper's ear. Ireland have bad history with Peyper going back to Paris last season when the ref was reluctant to reach for his pocket, or go upstairs. Add this was another chapter in the affair.
Off the first card Ireland had taken three points through Jackson - Sexton had got three before that - and off the second Jackson took another three for not releasing in the tackle, to make it 14-9 for New Zealand in the third quarter. A few seconds earlier Donnacha Ryan would have scored had Rob Kearney managed to free the ball in the tackle.
If the build up to the game had been dominated by the All Blacks' need to atone, then top of the Irish agenda was to delay the atonement until they had settled into the game. And sure enough the All Blacks had a downpayment made inside three minutes. We're guessing they won the toss to start the game, which would allow them to pick out Kieran Read, the brand leader in reclamation. Great start, and by three minutes Fekitoa was over for his first.
By half time New Zealand were 14-6 in front, despite conceding a penalty count of 2-8. And they would have been happy enough with that, for O'Brien looked sure to score early on only to lose the ball. But in man of the match Beauden Barrett NZ have the most exciting rugby player on the planet. He spread panic through the place every time he touched the ball.
Ireland, despite having mounted periods of intense pressure on the tourists, would have been pleased to be in touching distance. But the start of the second half looked ominous for them: lots of phases in and around the All Black 22, with no sign of the tourists' defence being stressed. When eventually it was turned over you could feel the supporters wilting a bit. It happened again a few minutes later in almost the identical position, as Ireland ran out of numbers to secure the ruck and ended up losing the ball.
Still, anything on the board was welcome for a side who were expending huge energy for modest gains so Jackson's penalty, which made it 14-9, kept them in the game. You wondered though what shape they would be in on the home straight, even if their discipline on the penalty count 4-14, was excellent.
What was really undoing Ireland however was their loose kicking. Conor Murray had been outstanding two weeks ago in Chicago but he overcooked a few here. And Jackson mishit a clearance in the third quarter that opened the door to another All Black counter. It finished with TJ Perenara offloading suspiciously to Fekitoa. Peyper, despite Best's pleading, had no mind to go upstairs again.
Barrett's conversion made it 21-9, with plenty of time for the Kiwis to put some gloss on things. That they didn't is testament to the home side. It was a gripping spectacle from start to finish, and the question now is what shape Schmidt's men will be in for the Wallabies on Saturday.
Physically this was a bruiser, and as the stress levels increased then Ireland began to lose some shape in attack. If they can get their bodies sorted out quickly then that's something that will improve by Saturday. If it's as compelling as this contest then we'll have had the best value November has ever given us.
Scorers - Ireland: Jackson 2 pens, Sexton pen
New Zealand: Fekitoa 2 tries, Barrett try, 3 cons
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw (G Ringrose 11), S Zebo (K Marmion 73); J Sexton (P Jackson 18), C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt) (S Cronin 67), T Furlong (F Bealham 67), D Ryan (I Henderson 58), D Toner, CJ Stander (J van der Flier 22), J Heaslip, S O'Brien.
New Zealand: B Smith (W Naholo 73); I Dagg, M Fekitoa, A Lienert-Brown, J Savea (A Cruden 59); B Barrett, A Smith (yc 17-27; TJ Perenara 59); J Moody (W Crockett 49), D Coles (C Taylor 68), O Franks (C Faumuina 52), B Retallick, S Whitelock, L Squire (S Barrett 68), K Read (capt), S Cane (A Savea 18).
Referee: J Peyper (South Africa)
Sunday Indo Sport