Thursday 13 December 2018

Ireland manipulated us and they deserved to win - Smith

Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt share a joke prior to Ireland's famous win at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Steve Hansen and Joe Schmidt share a joke prior to Ireland's famous win at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ben Smith's broken demeanour told its own story. Standing to his right, a battered and bruised Sam Whitelock attempted to make sense of it all.

This group of All Blacks players are a proud bunch, yet one thing that must be said about them is how gracious they were in defeat.

For a team that is not used to losing, when they do so it comes as a complete shock to the system. From their head coach down, however, there were no excuses, no blaming of the referee. Just simply putting their hands up and admitting that they were beaten by the better team.

The Kiwi's humility can often spill over into arrogance, but not this time.

Jacob Stockdale's try was a work of art. Straight out of the Joe Schmidt play-book - as he had done for CJ Stander's try in the Grand Slam decider in Twickenham - the Ireland maestro kept this latest stunning strike play in cold storage until the time was right to use it again.

Smith won't want to see a replay of Stockdale's try, as the winger gets sucked infield and leaves enough space on the left for the prolific Ulster man to weave his magic.

New Zealand's Ben Smith. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
New Zealand's Ben Smith. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

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"They worked that pretty well in the way they got into that part of the field and they all played their part to execute that try," Smith said.

"It was well done and when they score a try like that you've just got to acknowledge the way they do that. As a team, they have got a lot of tricks up their sleeve, but we've got to be a bit better with how we defend those tricks and that is an example.

"I suppose they sort of manipulated us a wee bit with bringing myself up and then kicking in behind the space. It's just well done and, as I said before, they played really well and deserved their win.

"That's their game, they back themselves. They are a tough team to play because they make the most of their opportunities when they get them."

Lessons aplenty, but Smith won't have taken many happy memories away from the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night. On another occasion he might have gathered Beauden Barrett's grubber kick and scored at a crucial stage in the second-half.

Peter O'Mahony's last-gasp intervention to snatch the ball from Smith's grasp summed up Ireland's relentless, never-say-die attitude.

"He did well, didn't he, to reach back and grab that," Smith sighed.

"I was starting to get excited, but it just bounced up. Yeah, we made a few opportunities but just couldn't capitalise on them. That's footy. Sometimes you get the bounce of the ball and sometimes you don't. I thought we were making progress the last few minutes, but you've got to give credit to the way the Irish boys defended and put us under a lot of pressure. They forced us into a few errors at times."

Captain Kieran Read insisted that while the pace of the game was not as fast as the Rugby Championship or last year's Lions series, the intensity and physicality matched both.

Steve Hansen pointed to his side's indiscipline in a first-half that was littered with so many silly penalty concessions that you wondered what it would take for referee Wayne Barnes to sin bin an All Blacks player.

"They held the ball and it felt like we were defending very well, but we kind of let that pressure off by giving away a silly penalty, and all of a sudden they have another free go, and that's something that we'll address going forward," Whitelock added.

"Then obviously when we had the ball, making sure that we can really penetrate. They defended very well so full credit to them, they didn't give us many opportunities and the ones we did get, we didn't capitalise.

"I think the first-half we probably tried too hard and that's why I think our discipline at times let us down.

"You can't expect it to be perfect every time, but with 10, 12 minutes to go, we took a shot which was good. You've got to give full credit to them. We threw a lot at them, especially in that last 20, and they defended well and didn't let us attack."

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