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Ireland denied by referee error

IRELAND were left to regret a hugely controversial decision by Welsh referee Nigel Owens as they lost a gripping Test encounter with New Zealand 22-19 in freezing Christchurch yesterday.

Ireland lost the Test series, as expected, with the final game still to come, in Hamilton on Saturday, but what hadn't been expected was that the issue would go down to the wire, ultimately settled by a last-gasp Dan Carter drop goal.

But Owens made a controversial call against a dominant Ireland scrum, with three minutes left which cost the visitors the chance to turn a game they were drawing into one they might have won, thus creating history in the 107 years, and 26 games, of competition between the countries.

All Black captain Richie McCaw said he was "quite happy" when Owens awarded his team the penalty from a contentious, wheeled scrum in the tense closing minutes.

Declan Kidney, however, felt his side were dominant in the scrum.

"(On) that particular scrum decision, we got the nudge on them -- they went around and in a couple of previous scrums the evidence was there to say we were on top," he said afterwards.

"The decision was that it was a penalty as against our put-in. That's the calls that are made. I didn't think we went in to whip it. We had the nudge on them, especially on our left-hand side and then we drove through on it. But it wasn't an equal wheel or anything like that. We had to work to get to the 89 degrees if you want to be generous. At 90 degrees we got another nudge on and then that's the decision."

Hooker Rory Best stopped short of criticising the decision, which allowed New Zealand get the territory from which Carter dropped the winning goal, with his second attempt, in the last minute.

"We'll have to take another look at it before we make any real comments," he said. "As hard as it is to take, you have to trust his (the referee's) decision on it. It's hugely frustrating but unfortunately they're the fine lines between winning and losing. I don't think it came down to one referee's call. We had chances and probably let them get into our 22 too softly from the lineout off that penalty."

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said it was hard to take solace from running the All Blacks so close.

"It is difficult when you have fought your way back into the game and got level on the board. They were a man down for the last seven or eight minutes.

"It is difficult to take any positives from the performance but I'm sure, when we look back, there will be plenty of them."

The Ireland squad will spend the next few days in Queenstown before flying back up to the north island for the final Test, in Hamilton, on Saturday.

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