By Katie Field, Rugby World writer
In a nutshell
Rarely will you see a more dramatic Test match than this. Ireland hadn’t beaten New Zealand in 25 previous attempts spread over 107 years and a magnificent effort in Christchurch took them within a whisker of that first win (or even a second draw), but they were denied at the death. Ireland led 10-0 before New Zealand fought back to 16-10 up, but the scores were locked at 19-19 until Dan Carter snatched victory for the All Blacks with a drop-goal inside the last minute.
Ireland played with so much more intensity than last week, forcing New Zealand into uncharacteristic errors. The Irish pack’s work at the breakdown was immense, Jonathan Sexton, Ronan O’Gara and Conor Murray controlled the game well and the All Blacks looked increasingly jittery as the tourists came back from 19-13 down to 19-19 inside the last quarter.
Then, with New Zealand down to 14 men after Israel Dagg was sin-binned for a nasty late hit on Rob Kearney, referee Nigel Owens penalised Ireland for wheeling a scrum inside the home half, and suddenly New Zealand rediscovered their clinical edge when it counted most. They took play to the shadow of the Ireland posts and, after Carter fluffed one drop-goal attempt, they were awarded a five-metre scrum and Test rugby’s world record points-scorer added another three to his total with his next drop-goal effort. With less than half a minute on the clock, Ireland had no time to come back and so lost in the cruellest fashion.
No one in the sell-out 21,000 crowd at the new AMI Stadium, built after Christchurch’s devastating 2011 earthquake, can have seen a more dramatic Test match, nor a better Ireland performance. Somehow the tourists now need to put this disappointment behind them and take the multitude of positives this game offers, and go all out for the win in the third and final Test next week. They have nothing to fear.
Referee Nigel Owens refereed the breakdown strongly and evenly all evening but sadly his game will be remembered for a call inside the last five minutes which allowed New Zealand to turn defence into attack and snatch the win. Ireland had been on top in the scrum, but Owen penalised them for deliberately wheeling a scrum inside the hosts’ half and the All Blacks kicked for touch, attacked from the lineout and ultimately set the platform for the winning drop-goal. Scrum-calls at vital times are always controversial and only a handful of people know what was really happening in there, so opinion will remain divided on this one for years to come.
There were so many outstanding performances from Ireland players, not least their front row. Mike Ross was immense, coming back into the side after several weeks on the sidelines, Rory Best had a terrific game, but Cian Healy just edges the decision for me with his storming play in the tight and loose. He even found time to square up to semi-professional boxer Sonny Bill Williams. Jamie Heaslip was another standout performer, Donnacha Ryan won some lovely lineouts, and Brian O’Driscoll led his team magnificently, characteristically playing bravely on after taking a blow close to his left eye early in the game.
Room for improvement
There is hardly anything to criticise in this Irish performance. Their intensity was superb, their kick-chase excellent and their defence aggressive and sound. New Zealand lacked composure and made uncharacteristic errors, which they will be keen to cut out next week.
In quotes – winners
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw: “It is a relief to win, to be honest. We are pretty happy to get away with a win. These guys make you pay for the mistakes you make in Test footy. You have to cut the errors out and take your opportunities.”
In quotes – losers
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll: “I am absolutely gutted. We had them in trouble a few times, but the scoreline still says an All Blacks’ victory, which is very difficult to take. There was a huge effort from Mike Ross, coming back after not having played for a lot of weeks. There was a huge work-rate from our pack to set the platform. I am very proud of the lads. We have one more shot next week now and we will take a huge amount from this game.”
New Zealand had more territory (62%) and possession (59%) but conceded ten turnovers and made eight handling errors.
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg; Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea (Ben Smith 73); Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith (Piri Weepu 64); Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks (Ben Franks 57), Brodie Retallick (Ali Williams 64), Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson (Retallick 65-69), Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read (Sam Cane 40).
Try Aaron Smith. Con Carter. Pens Carter 4. Drop-goal Carter.
Sin-bin Israel Dagg 72
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll (captain), Gordon D’Arcy (Ronan O’Gara 50), Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray (Eoin Reddan 64); Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Dan Tuohy (Donncha O’Callaghan 58), Donnacha Ryan, Kevin McLaughlin (Peter O’Mahony 62), Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Try Murray. Con Sexton. Pens Sexton 4