IRELAND came within a whisker of a sensational, heroic humbling of New Zealand, losing out 31-26 in their U20 World Cup Pool decider at Vannes last night.
Mike Ruddock's boys-to-men almost carried off a real life Houdini act, steaming back from 31-11 to put New Zealand to the pin of their collar in the final quarter.
"It is very tough to take. Before the match, I had said none of us had ever played against New Zealand. We had to believe in each other and gain respect. I think we did that," said a crestfallen captain Luke McGrath.
In the beginning, NZ almost cracked the defence through left-wing Lolagi Visinia and then right Penikolo Latu. Ireland responded by destroying their scrum and driving the first lineout.
And so the pattern was set.
Centre Rory Scannell's nudged Ireland in front from 40 metres. NZ had a remedy in the shape of two Simon Hickey penalties in the 18th and 22nd minutes.
The first try would be crucial. It came from Baby Black lock Patrick Tuipulotu following sustained pressure and the impact of left-wing Visinia in a tight space.
Ireland had an answer, centre Tom Farrell snapping up a loose ball and just about taking it home from halfway to make it 11 all.
Hickey quickly recovered the lead from a simple penalty. Then, Farrell was rightly binned for pulling back Adams right on the break.
Ireland had to hold out for Farrell to return. They couldn't. It all unraveled from there. A swift attack was concluded by hooker Epalahame Faiva's try, wing Visinia powering over Daragh Leader and Faiva claimed his second in the same spot for 31-11 by the 56th minute.
From within them, Ireland summoned something special. They simply threw away the shackles and ran NZ ragged.
A knife-through-butter break by Farrell created the space in behind for flanker Dan Leavy to strike by the corner flag.
Replacement prop Edward Byrne powered over from short range. Scannell converted for 31-23 in the 68th minute.
Kiwi replacement Nick Grogan was binned. Scannell shot three points from the left and it put them within one score of a miracle with 10 minutes on the clock.
The Kiwis were feeling the heat, keeping the ball tight to run down the clock.
Ireland kept coming like a train. They just didn't have the time to complete the comeback.