Chasing shadows: Israel Dagg breaks the Irish line in a superb performance by the All Blacks

By Phillip Coulter

I’LL BE honest, when I first saw Declan Kidney’s team selection it didn’t fill me with confidence.

Losing to the Barbarians the week before travelling to the backyard of the World Champions isn’t ideal preparation by any means. Doing so without three world class players, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell and Tommy Bowe, left Ireland with a slim chance of getting their first win over the All Blacks.

And so it proved.

No excuses, no hard luck stories. The fact is that Declan Kidney’s side simply weren’t good enough. In saying that, the All Blacks were at their brutal and clinical best.

After an exciting opening ten minutes Ireland showed plenty of attacking intent. They used the ball well, spread it wide and stretched the All Black defence.

At one point Rob Kearney even dared to do the unthinkable and bounce the much vaunted Sonny Bill Williams onto the seat of his pants. All the while Johnny Sexton and Dan Carter were busy exchanging penalties – Ireland were in the game at 9-3.

This was about as good as it got for the tourists.

Main man: Debut hat-trick for Savea

Ireland appeared to be coping well, but after some great defence a loose kick up field gave New Zealand too much time on the ball and in the blink of an eye Hurricanes winger Julian Savea had got his first try in the famous black shirt.

And if a game could be summed up five minutes, it would be the five minutes before half-time. Ireland looked to have regained their composure after going 16-3 behind. Surging forward, they forced New Zealand into conceding a penalty.

Sexton pumped the ball five metres from the All Black line. Ireland won the lineout and within 60 seconds New Zealand had turned the ball over and secured an attacking lineout five metres from Ireland’s line. Now that’s what I call black magic!

Moments later, Savea got his second try of the game. Inevitably Carter converted and with that Ireland were 20 points behind and the game was over as a contest. The All Blacks must have been warming up in the first half because in the second they were molten hot.

Carter and Israel Dagg dazzled the Eden Park crowd with touches of class to allow Savea to sail over in the corner for a hat-trick on his debut.

In reality, Ireland were left treading water for the rest of the game. New Zealand were in full flow, doing everything that world champions are expected to do – ruthlessly taking their chances while starving the opposition of possession.

It was the AB’s enterprising style of attack that allowed Rory Best to turn over the ball for Fergus McFadden to hack it up field and gift Ireland their only try of the game.

From an Irish perspective it really was a frustrating game to watch. Any time they were able to put themselves in a position to score, New Zealand seemed to have their card marked.

Key man: Donnacha Ryan's stock is rising

In contrast, New Zealand were asking Ireland questions they simply didn’t have the ability to answer. They were too fast, too strong and too smart for Ireland and in Savea they look to have found a new star pupil – dangerous with the ball in hand, just as devastating without.

Ireland could be in for a long few weeks.

Positives for Ireland

Declan Fitzpatrick: Solid in the scrum and useful around the park. A big ask of the Ulster prop who hasn’t played a lot of rugby this year. He stood up well and didn’t disappoint against New Zealand’s most capped prop of all time, Tony Woodcock.

Donnacha Ryan: To use a terrible cliché, his stock is rising with every game he plays in an Ireland shirt. Along with Dan Tuohy Ireland now have other second rows capable of making an impact on international rugby in the post Paul O’Connell era. Now that’s a compliment!