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Irish limitations exposed vividly in black and white

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Garry Ringrose on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Steinlager Series match between the New Zealand and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Garry Ringrose on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Steinlager Series match between the New Zealand and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Garry Ringrose on his way to scoring his side's second try during the Steinlager Series match between the New Zealand and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It doesn’t get much worse than conceding a breakaway try against the run of play, then losing your talismanic captain as you are stuck under your own posts gasping for air, wondering how to stem the flow.

As it turns out, things could get much, much worse. And they did for Ireland in brutal fashion.

By the time Johnny Sexton left the action with a head injury in the 31st minute, you could sense the nervous tension in the sizeable Irish contingent amongst the 48,195 inside Eden Park, as the All Blacks were ominously clicking into gear after an uncharacteristically poor start.

The worrying thing is that the All Blacks have another couple of gears to move through ahead of next Saturday’s second Test in Dunedin, whereas Andy Farrell doesn’t exactly have a raft of impact players waiting to come into the team.

This is the biggest problem as Ireland’s depth issues were exposed in the one stadium that you can ill-afford for that to happen.

Nothing summed up Ireland’s lack of back-up options more than Andrew Porter going the full 80 minutes in a game that had long been beyond doubt.

Cian Healy, whose tour looked to be over, was not fit enough to be called upon, while Finlay Bealham was ruled out with Covid and Ed Byrne’s flight to Auckland was delayed.

The sight of Michael Bent going through the warm-up, having been summoned from a far corner of New Zealand merely added to the sense of chaos.

After the full-time whistle, the Ireland squad gathered in a huddle. James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong led the initial inquest, but tomorrow morning’s review will be a much uglier affair because for large parts, Farrell’s men were the creators of their own downfall.

The scrum was once again an issue, as the All Blacks went after Porter, who was penalised several times on what was a tough night at the set-piece.

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Then there was the lineout, which again creaked under ferocious pressure from a Kiwi pack that sensed another weakness. John Fogarty and Paul O’Connell will have their hands full on the training pitch this week.

Ireland’s kicking strategy, particularly on exits, was poor. Rather than find the safety of touch, they wanted to keep the ball in play.

Throughout the Maori defeat last Wednesday, a young Ireland side shot themselves in the foot by allowing the Kiwis to counter-attack. Here, a much more experienced team made similar sloppy errors, while their carelessness with the ball proved very costly.

That was typified in the build up to Sevu Reece’s try, as instead of Ireland making their dominance count with a second try, a stray offload from Garry Ringrose and a slip from James Lowe saw Reece gather the loose ball and run clear from his own 22 and score a try that was like a dagger through the heart.

To compound the misery, Sexton was forced off and just as Ireland needed to steady the ship, they conceded another two converted tries. At 28-5 down at half-time in a venue that New Zealand haven’t lost in since 1994, it was curtains.

“We were very calm, we spoke about that before the game, about how we had to prepare for times when things won’t go our way, how I was sure they would score tries, so we kind of prepared for that,” Josh van der Flier said, reflecting on what the mood was like under the posts after Reece’s try.

“In my head, just prior to that try I was thinking, ‘we are going great here’. Then they got a breakaway try and it reminded me of playing Toulouse or someone like that, a side who gets a breakaway try out of nowhere.”

Farrell took a more matter of fact view on that game-defining moment. “That’s the game — injuries are part of it,” he said.

“We are here to find out about ourselves and find out about the personnel that we’ve got as well, so opportunities arose for Joey (Carbery).”

Ireland’s blistering start that saw Keith Earls score a superb team try soon became a distant memory, as tries from Jordie Barrett, who converted all six All Blacks’ tries, Reece, Quinn Tupaea, Pita Gus Sowakula and two from the outstanding Ardie Savea allowed the All Blacks to pull well clear.

Second-half scores from Ringrose and Aki proved scant consolation.

“We are gutted to lose,” Farrell added. “You don’t get many opportunities to break a record and it’s an outstanding record. You can see why they hold that here. But we are gutted to lose.

"Having said that, the players know what they did well and they know how the game flowed and things that we need to fix to stay in a series for next week. It isn’t a dejected changing room. It’s one that will dust itself off, learn the lessons and attack next week.”

Scorers – New Zealand: Savea 2 tries; J Barrett, Reece, Tupaea, Sowakula try each; J Barrett 6 cons. Ireland: Earls, Ringrose, Aki try each; Carbery 2 cons.

New Zealand: J Barrett; S Reece, R Ioane (B Ennor 66), W Tupaea (R Mo’unga 60), L Fainga’anuku; B Barrett, A Smith (F Christie 60); G Bower (K Tu’inukuafe 60), C Taylor (S Taukei’aho 54), O Tu’ungafasi (A Ta’avao 54); B Retallick (P G Sowakula 63), S Whitelock; S Barrett, S Cane (D Papalii 66), A Savea.

Ireland: H Keenan; K Earls (B Aki 57), G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (J Carbery, 31), J Gibson-Park (C Murray 73); A Porter, D Sheehan (D Heffernan 63-66), T Furlong (T Toole 66); T Beirne (K Treadwell 64), J Ryan; P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, C Doris (J Conan 57).

Referee: K Dickson (England).


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