Saturday 21 April 2018

Failure to score tries and marginal calls cost brave Ireland as All Blacks gain revenge in brutal war


Garry Ringrose of Ireland in action against Ardie Savea of New Zealand during the Autumn International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Garry Ringrose of Ireland in action against Ardie Savea of New Zealand during the Autumn International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Valiant defeats are supposed to be things of the past for Irish rugby and their failure to back up their famous win over New Zealand will hurt this team.

They have excuses a-plenty, losing three key men to injury in the opening 25 minutes and playing with a referee in Jaco Peyper who appears to come from a different, more violent era. Along with his television match official Jon Morgan, he made at least three highly questionable calls that affected the game.

Just over a week after World Rugby issued a diktat outlining how seriously they are taking dangerous play, the South African chose leniency as the All Blacks brutally atoned for their first defeat in 19 games two weeks ago.

When they calm down and review the game, Ireland will point to their inability to score a try against the world champions despite a host of opportunities as the reason they lost this game.

They dominated possession (67%) and spent 70% of the game in All Black territory. The world champions were down to 14 men for two separate 10 minute spells, but Ireland only scored six points in those periods.

They won the collision zone, but lacked accuracy at critical moments. Their lineout slipped and their handling, so assured at Soldier Field, deserted them at pivotal moments.

New Zealand defended well and were far more clinical in attack, scoring three tries to Ireland’s zero. Beauden Barrett was instrumental in their play, while the returning second-rows Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick made a difference.

Irish individuals had huge games, like Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Trimble and Garry Ringrose who came into the game as a 10th minute replacement.

Ireland got off on the wrong foot by failing to gather the kick-off and the All Blacks fed off that error and went ahead within three minutes or relentless attacking phases that finished with Malakai Fekitoa powering over from a clever Beauden Barrett cross-kick.

The out-half nailed a difficult conversion but Ireland looked to bounce back immediately and Jamie Heaslip’s brilliant line-break and pop to Sean O’Brien almost reaped an instant reward only for Barrett to hold the flanker up over the line.

Heaslip then got Ireland on the front-foot from the scrum and, when New Zealand strayed off-side under the posts and CJ Stander was held up, Johnny Sexton pulled a penalty back.

The initial frenzy was halted when Sam Cane went in high and dangerously on Robbie Henshaw who went down with a suspected concussion.

Referee Jaco Peyper consulted Welsh TMO Jon Mason and between them they decided a penalty was sufficient as the Ireland centre left the field on a stretcher, waving to the crowd as Garry Ringrose came on.

Within moments, Ireland were under their own posts again and the Peyper-Mason double-act were attracting the ire of the local crowd.

The Hurricanes out-half sped outside Conor Murray and looked like he’d coast home, but Johnny Sexton made up the ground and held his opposite number up by getting his arm under the ball.

Somehow, Mason spotted a grounding despite the footage suggesting the contrary, leaving Ireland captain Rory Best flummoxed.

Barrett made it a 14-3 game and a helter-skelter game took its toll as Sexton and Cane both left the field injured, while Aaron Smith was sin-binned for trying to kick the ball repeatedly at the ruck.

Ireland kicked a kickable penalty to touch, but got pinged for obstruction as they looked to make their numbers count.

The world champions’ defence was holding up to some big punishment from Ireland who, despite the scoreline, were winning the majority of the collisions and another relentless attack came up short when Kieran Read got his hands on the ball and Peyper called the scrum.

Liam Squire took one for the team but escaped further censure for breaking from the scrum as Paddy Jackson narrowed the gap.

Their decision not try and ram home their scrum advantage meant Smith returned with Ireland just three points closer on the scoreboard as their good play went unrewarded.

The TMO finally gave a decision Ireland’s way when he adjudged Barrett knocked on when stripping Jackson before racing under the posts.

The furious tempo was taking its toll and CJ Stander left the field with a head injury as Ireland’s stayed in the game without creating any clear-cut opportunities.

At times it appeared like they were simply hanging in and their effort became increasingly tired, but they made it to half-time at 14-6.

Despite the huge toll, Ireland started the second-half on the front-foot only to be frustrated by the black wall in front of them.

They got their chance when Fekitoa went outrageously high on Simon Zebo and was handed 10 minutes. He was lucky it wasn’t the game.

Ireland went to the corner, but again failed to execute as O’Brien knocked on Heaslip’s tap-down.

They got another chance when Owen Franks went high and this time they went to their maul which came up short and the defence held strong until Josh van der Flier threw a loose offload.

Rob Kearney almost got in from Zebo’s chip after a brilliant O’Brien line-break, but Israel Dagg recovered from spilling the ball and forced an error.

Jared Payne won the penalty that finally allowed Jackson reduce the gap to make it a one-score game but again Ireland had failed to get over the line with an opponent in the bin.

With his first touch, TJ Peranara handed Ireland penalty to allow Jackson kick or field position, but a dreadful Cian Healy pass handed the initiative back to New Zealand.

They almost got the killer blow with a wide-move, but Dagg’s pass under pressure from Simon Zebo wasn’t held by Aaron Cruden and Ireland escaped, but not for long.

Ireland’s exit saw Jackson kick deep and a tired chase saw Ireland put in all sorts of trouble as the most clinical team in rugby clicked into gear. Barrett executed a sensational one-two with Anton Lienert-Brown, before off-loading brilliantly to Peranara who threw a forward-looking pass to Fekitoa to score.

Peyper refused to look at the big screen despite Best’s protestations and the scoreboard moved beyond Ireland’s reach.

They gave everything but came up short. They are comfortable in this company now though.


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 (C Healy 58), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 68), T Furlong (F Bealham 68); D Ryan (I Henderson 58), D Toner; CJ Stander (J van der Flier 23 HIA), S O’Brien, J Heaslip.

NEW ZEALAND – B Smith (W Naholo 73); I Dagg, M Fekitoa, A Lienert-Brown, J Savea (A Cruden 58); B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Peranara 57); J Moody (W Crockett 48), D Coles (C Taylor ), O Franks (C Faumuina 52); B Retallick, S Whitelock; L Squire (S Barrett 68), S Cane (A Savea 18), K Read (capt).

Referee: J Peyper (South Africa)

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