Mighty Kiwis powered by Dan the man
THE good news ... the best Irish performance of the November series by a mile. And the bad... we still lost by 20 points at home playing to the maximum of our ability.
Bear in mind, too, that while we were short Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Tomas O'Leary and Paul O'Connell, New Zealand were missing at least half of their regular starters.
That, in the final analysis, is the brutal reality of what faces Declan Kidney and this gallant Irish squad as we move towards New Zealand 2011.
However, for the moment, let us live in the here and now.
When individually and collectively a team gives everything it has got to give then no coach can ask for more.
Kidney gave his first XV a vote of confidence following a dubious opening against South Africa and, in fairness, by dint of honest graft and no little skill, they didn't let him down.
Jamie Heaslip -- who, along with Stephen Ferris and Brian O'Driscoll, was absolutely outstanding -- suggested the final scoreline "failed to reflect the game".
There we must agree to differ. It did reflect the game -- and that is the stark and scary reality. The All Blacks right now are that good. Yes, as the Wallabies showed in Hong Kong, they can be got at and occasionally beaten, but it requires 80 minutes of no-holds-barred intensity and, as of now, we are some way off going that distance.
But credit where credit is due, this was a ballsy Irish performance. Kidney will not be bowed by the loss, but equally he is sensible enough to appreciate that the two teams are heading towards the World Cup in different lanes.
Despite conceding four tries, defence coach Les Kiss can take a bow, given the amount of possession the Kiwis enjoyed. O'Driscoll and Co can take particular solace given all four All Blacks tries came from forwards. How long is it since an All Black back failed to register a try over the course of a game? And you can add to this the almost 30 minutes in the second half when we held the Kiwis scoreless.
It speaks volumes for the esteem with which New Zealand rugby is held that we are almost euphoric in defeat. Yet, after losing to world champions South Africa by just two and beating Samoa by double scores, we were utterly depressed. It's a funny old game...
On the field, the failure of Ireland to meaningfully challenge for possession at the kick-offs was worrying. Here, for sure, the physical presence of O'Connell is missed.
In a game in which possession has become even more than nine-tenths of the law, securing the ball at the restart is more important than ever. On Saturday, we trailed a distant second in that key regard.
The magnificent Dan Carter was worth watching in this regard. The quality and accuracy of his kick-offs are unbelievable. Against Ireland, from Tony Woodcock at loose-head through to Mils Muliana in the last line, they were absolutely awesome. The back-row is the best in the world with Richie McCaw, on this occasion, outshone by Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read in particular.
Yet for all that, where would they be without Carter? He is the one who makes this brilliant team tick. Lose him and they can forget about the World Cup.
He was man of the match on Saturday NOT because he kicked seven from eight under pressure and at critical times, but because he was master of all he surveyed.
Those privileged to be present, witnessed a master craftsman at the top of his considerable game.
Statistics can be twisted whatever way you want. But the very bottom line is that Ireland's damaged confidence has been somewhat restored and for the likes of Tom Court, Sean Cronin and Devin Toner, vital experience at this stratospheric level has been gained.
However, it is imperative that Saturday's gutsy effort is followed up by a comprehensive winning performance against the Pumas on Sunday next.