Rugby Union: Victims of a wrecking crew

Jonathan Davies finds that All Blacks' reservation is a mark of enduring greatness
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The Independent Online
THE MOST chilling fact of this game was that Ireland played better than anyone had a right to expect and still got wrecked by a 48-point margin. It's a frightening thought for England and Wales who have to play New Zealand over the next few weeks that their best is not likely to be anywhere near good enough.

At least, what Ireland achieved in their battling first-half display should give them a few clues on how to try to stem the All Black tide, but the visitors will not be inclined to give them even a glimpse of the chances the Irish gained.

I was chatting to Andrew Mehrtens after the game and what struck me was how disappointed they were that they'd had such a bad start to the game. I think that's a measure of their greatness - they are never satisfied and they never take anything for granted. They were genuinely worried when the Irish were holding them in the first half. And the more worried they get the more brilliant they seem to become.

The Irish tactics were perfect. They were obviously going to lay their lives on the line in the tackle. They always do. But they also used their heads as well as their hearts by refusing to committ too many men to the ruck and spread themselves wide to absorb the All Black charges. It worked like a dream. They got stuck in amongst them and Mehrtens was forced to kick far more than I've seen him do before.

Eric Elwood was given a platform which he used to good effect in that first half. And with their line-out jumpers doing very well the Irish looked in good shape. To score two good tries was a just reward for them and for their skipper, Keith Wood.

But New Zealand have this collective capacity to change the course of a game. They were 15-11 down after 30 minutes and the way they scored 52 points in the next 50 minutes was brilliant and clinical at the same time.

The clinching moment for me was just before half time when their captain, Justin Marshall, ran right down the centre to score. He was well aware by then that the Irish were spreading wide so he came off the back of a ruck, sold them a dummy and sprinted through the gap at the side of it.

That was the beginning of the end. The Irish had the benefit of the wind in the second half but they had lost Wood at the interval and I would have preferred to have had him at my front rather than the wind at my back because New Zealand just took over. They were so much in control that Ireland didn't touch the ball for 20 minutes.

And the less ball you get the more you have to tackle. The bodies that can withstand tackling stints that long against them haven't been made yet. The Irish were as brave as they could be but the All Blacks just drove past the advantage line again and again until the gaps opened up and their brilliant individuals cut them to pieces.

I thought the centre Alaama Ieremia was their best player but, quite honestly, you could name any one of a dozen and when you see someone like Josh Kronfeld coming on as a sub and that Jonah Lomu and Carlos Spencer weren't even on the bench it makes you shudder.

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