Rugby Union: Ireland fall under spell of Black art

Ireland 15 New Zealand 63 Tries: Wood 2 Tries: Osborne 2, Wilson 2 Pens: Elwood Ieremia, Marshall, Mehrtens Cons: Elwood Pens: Merhrtens 6 Cons: Merhrtens 5
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The Independent Online
IRELAND'S players had more chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest than this match. It was always apparent they were on a hiding to nothing and although they took that hiding they did not come out with nothing, despite going down by five goals, seven tries and six penalties to a goal, two tries and a penalty.

The Irish, who have never beaten the All Blacks - and they've been trying since 1905 - had a terrific first half but, as expected, the floodgates opened in the second. If the match followed the expected script in terms of the result, few people could have envisaged the magnitude of Ireland's input. New Zealand were clearly shaken and stirred by their passion, not to mention skill. As early as the 10th minute the All Blacks were sufficiently worried to go into a 15-man huddle.

At that point the Irish were level at 3-3. What was disturbing the tourists was that the Irish, typically, were concocting a Molotov cocktail of a game. When Ireland won a penalty deep in the New Zealand half, the stand- off Eric Elwood, who had earlier kicked a penalty, chose to punt the ball into the left hand corner. A minute later he elected to do the same thing and when the Ireland lock Malcolm O'Kelly secured possession from the line-out, the entire pack drove back the All Blacks and the unmistakable figure of Keith Wood who, with no hair to speak of looked like the pink ball nestling next to the black, burrowed over for a famous try.

The score lit up Lansdowne Road. For one glorious moment Irish spirit, not to mention a fanatical strength, had put one over the mighty All Blacks. Most observers did not expect it to last, and, of course, it didn't.

Wood's try, which was converted by Elwood, gave Ireland a 10-6 lead. However, a few minutes later Andrew Mehrtens made an outside break to release Jeff Wilson and the lead again changed hands.

Nevertheless, neither Ireland nor Wood were finished. After some excellent work by the new cap Kevin Nolan and Elwood, the winger Denis Hickie was given room down the right touchline. Although his inside pass to Conor McGuinness was forward, the Irish were not to be denied. Hickie again made headway and although he was caught at the last gasp by Justin Marshall, the ball was kept alive. Then the No 8 Eric Miller chipped ahead and Wood remarkably won the race to the touchdown as the ball rolled over the New Zealand line.

After 28 minutes Ireland led 15-11 but, as ever against the All Blacks, you never have time to rest on your laurels, let alone a three-leafed clover.

Mehrtens kicked a string of penalties to erode Ireland's lead and, on the stroke of half-time, his partner Justin Marshall played a captain's role by selling a dummy and racing in for a try from 35 yards. It meant that the All Blacks, who for the first time this tour had been wrong footed on several occasions, still enjoyed the luxury of a 27-15 lead at the break.

As several Irishmen observed at that stage, they would happily settle for that score.

Wood, the hero, did not reappear for the second half, his place taken by Ross Nesdale, not that it would have made any difference. It is typical that as the game gets longer, the All Blacks get stronger and so it proved as the crowd were in no doubt that the English referee Tony Spreadbury was favouring the visitors. Certainly the scoring pass from Zinzan Brooke to Glen Osborne 11 minutes into the second half looked forward.

No matter. The All Blacks were in full cry and when Marshall released Wilson from a scrum six minutes later the dynamic right wing went over unopposed. Then the crowd again vented their feelings against the referee when Mehrtens scored under the posts - after a scrum had apparently already been awarded to New Zealand. The conversion by the impeccable All Blacks stand-off pushed his side's total past the 50 mark and still they were not finished.

As both sides made a series of tactical changes, the All Blacks showed little sign of relaxing and continued to smother the green, further tries coming from the centre Alama Iereima and another for Osborne.

Certainly Ireland enjoyed more possession than had been anticipated, but for the most part their kicking out of hand was misjudged and ill- applied. Kicking became their first instinct although there were occasions when they could and should have shown more faith in the capabilities of their three-quarters.

One consolation is that they prevented the All Blacks' phenomenal full back, Christian Cullen, from scoring, a rare feat in itself. Most people had come to praise him not to see him buried. But then that is one of the All Blacks' numerous ploys. If it takes two or three players to stop Christian's onward soldiering, it leaves more space for his colleagues.

Ireland: K Nowlan (St Mary's); D Hickie (St Mary's), R Henderson (Wasps), M McCall (London Irish), J McWeeney (St Mary's); E Elwood (Galwegians), C McGuinness (St Mary's); N Popplewell (Newcastle), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens), M O'Kelly (L Irish), E Halvey (Shannon), K Dawson (L Irish), E Miller (Leicester). Replacements: R Nesdale (Newcastle) for Wood, 40; K Maggs (Bristol) for McWeeney, 62; D Erskine (Sale) for Halvey, 62. Replacements not used: D Humphreys (L Irish), B O'Meara (Cork Constitution), R Corrigan (Greystones), R Nesdale (Newcastle).

New Zealand: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), A Ieremia (Wellington), G Osborne (North Harbour); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury, capt); C Dowd (Auckland), N Hewitt (Southland), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Auckland), T Randell (Otago), A Blowers (Auckland), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacements: C Riechelmann for R Brooke, 55; J Kronfeld for A Blowers, 64; S McLeod for Bunce, 70; J Preston for Mehrtens, 75. Replacements not used: M Allen (Manawatu), A Oliver (Otago).

Referee: A Spreadbury (England).

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