IRELAND came agonisingly close to a first win over the All Blacks in the AMI Stadium today only to be denied by last minute Dan Carter drop-goal.
Making a mockery of pre-match odds which rated the All Blacks as 1-40 favourites, Ireland were unrecognisable from the side that was rolled over 42-10 in Eden Park the previous weekend with captain Brian O’Driscoll producing an inspirational performance at outside centre.
He was not alone as the Irish showed vast improvements in every facet of the game, notably in defence where the world champions could manage none of the momentum they built up in Auckland.
Ireland led 10-9 at half-time through a Conor Murray try and with a penalty and conversion by Jonathan Sexton to Carter’s three penalties, and had silenced the sell-out crowd getting their first taste of international rugby in two years following last year’s earthquake.
A converted Aaron Smith try on the resumption pushed New Zealand into a 16-10 lead and Carter and Sexton swapped penalties to tie the game at 19-19 with 13 minutes left. A blatant body check on Rob Kearney saw Israel Dagg yellow-carded but Sexton’s 48-metre penalty fell short.
Then, after winning a dubious scrum penalty, the All Blacks worked their way into the Ireland 22 and after missing with his initial effort, Carter nailed his second after a five-metre scrum.
Agony for the Irish who must now gather themselves for one final push next weekend in Hamilton.
NEW ZEALAND – I Dagg; Z Guildford, C Smith, S Williams, J Savea (B Smith 74); D Carter, A Smith (P Weepu 64); T Woodcock, A Hore, O Franks (B Franks 57); B Retallick (A Williams 64), S Whitelock; A Thomson (B Retallick (66-69), R McCaw (capt), K Read (S Cane h-t). Yellow card: Dagg 73
IRELAND – R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll (capt), G D’Arcy (R O’Gara 51), A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 64); C Healy, R Best, D Fitzpatrick; D Tuohy (D O’Callaghan 58), D Ryan; K McLaughlin (P O’Mahony 62), S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
REF - N Owens (Wales)