Sport Rugby

Friday 23 March 2018

Nine-try blitzkrieg demolishes tourists' timid resistance

New Zealand 60
Ireland 0

Sonny Bill Williams breaks
through the Irish defensive
line during the final Test in
Hamilton yesterday
Sonny Bill Williams breaks through the Irish defensive line during the final Test in Hamilton yesterday
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

On Thursday night, we came across a man who had been called in as cannon fodder for the All Blacks' final big hit-out of the week ahead of yesterday's series-closing Test against Ireland. He looked wrecked. "It's the speed," he says. "They did everything at an unbelievable pace."

It's probably New Zealand where the phrase was coined that you play the way you train and they synced the two perfectly in Hamilton yesterday. Before a crowd of 25,000, they ran Ireland ragged, exposing the second Test effort by Declan Kidney's side for what it was: an heroic blip. In the 51st week of their season, since they started preparations for last year's World Cup, it was appropriate that such a crazy schedule should finish with the most painful experience on any step of that long road.

It broke new ground statistically as well. It was Ireland's heaviest ever defeat. The 60-point margin erased the record gap established by the 1992 crew who, a week after running the All Blacks to three points in Dunedin, were swept away in the wind and rain of Wellington. The return of nil meantime was the first time Ireland failed to score since the 16 point beating in Buenos Aires in June 2007.

In their analysis of last week's scare in Christchurch, the All Blacks identified 24 errors which they classed as avoidable. It will be interesting to see how many they come up with from this blitzkrieg which started at the start and kept firing until the ninth try in the final quarter.

Pre-match, the Irish supporters in Hamilton were hoping that the absence of Dan Carter would have a positive spin-off. You could say it got better, as early in the second quarter the home team were down to their third-choice number 10 when Beauden Barrett had replaced Aaron Cruden. Even in the 16 minutes Cruden was on the field, however, he had played beautifully, attacking the gain line hard and setting up the second try, for Sonny Bill Williams, on 12 minutes.

So the game had already careered away from Ireland when Barrett came on after 26 minutes with the All Blacks leading 21-0. He looked pretty handy too. All the vital signs were ominous for Ireland: Brian O'Driscoll was having a plain awful night with his handling, and the policy of choking Kiwis was counter-productive, for so aggressive was the charge they put on, when Ireland tried to stand up the tackled player, that not only did the ball pop out but Ireland were down a man, and going backwards.

The scrum too was a different-looking beast to last week. With the score at 26-0 and Ireland at last getting a foothold in the New Zealand 22, the tourists were awarded a penalty close in. In opting for the five-metre scrum, they drew a line in the sand. The ABs washed that line away, getting decent pressure on Ireland's ball whereupon scrumhalf Aaron Smith stole it from under the nose of Peter O'Mahony.

As so often in this fixture, Ireland looked to be under pressure in everything they did. They had a monumental battle trying to get decent ball at the breakdown, which led to them getting smashed in the tackle thereafter.

"I thought that was where we made the biggest shift this week," Richie McCaw said of his team's defence. "To keep our line intact over 80 minutes and still score those tries was really pleasing. We spoke about it late in the game -- not letting them score."

By that stage, Ireland looked shattered. They were struggling to make conclusive tackles in the first place, and being crucified by offloads in the second. For example, Cruden's pass out of the tackle for Williams' first try was brilliant. Between that, and the nature of the first score, for the excellent Sam Cane -- which featured a ball that went forward in the build-up -- it looked like Ireland would get nothing from the experience.

Interestingly, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, thought the idea of a three-Test series was just the ticket. "It was a great concept," he said. "Great to have three international matches against the same opposition."

Well, great if you want to bed in a new coaching team and a handful of new players. Along with Barrett, Luke Romano got his first cap and the second row brought a huge physical presence to the game. As did Liam Messam on the short side. They wanted to up that side of their game after Christchurch and succeeded comfortably.

By half-time, they were out to 29-0, the last three points of that haul coming when Rob Kearney was binned for slapping down a pass five metres from the Ireland line. It reminded you of New Plymouth two years ago when Ireland couldn't keep the full complement on the field and ended up leaking 66 points. That night, however, there was a second-half comeback to put some balance on the scoreline. There was nothing like that here.

Instead we got the usual rota of replacements made at the usual time and with the usual effect. You felt for Paddy Wallace, who lasted until the 55th minute. A week ago, he was on the beach in Portugal, and the chances of him being up to speed here were slim.

For Williams' second try, he cut back between Wallace and Dan Tuohy. It was typical of the weak defending that did for Ireland in the first quarter. They continued to leak after the break, with five more tries coming -- one of which featured Hosea Gear nearly taking Keith Earls' head off en route to the line. You wonder why they asked Earls to come back on at all after that one. He will be as glad as the rest of them that it's all over.

New Zealand: I Dagg; B Smith, C Smith (T Ellison 61), SB Williams, H Gear; A Cruden (B Barrett 26), A Smith (P Weepu 61); T Woodcock (B Franks 72), A Hore (K Mealamu h-t), O Franks, L Romano, S Whitelock (B Retallick 56), L Messam, R McCaw (capt), S Cane (A Thompson 70).

Ireland: R Kearney (yc 40-50); F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace (R O'Gara 55), K Earls (A Trimble 64); J Sexton, C Murray (E Reddan 55); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin 69), M Ross (D Fitzpatrick 59), D Tuohy (D O'Callaghan 56), D Ryan, K McLaughlin (C Henry 55), P O'Mahony, S O'Brien.

Referee: R Poite (France)

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