This was coming. Not a win but a performance at least, and at last. Ireland lost but they put an end to the series of anaemic displays endured since the spring. New Zealand were better all across the pitch, but for Declan Kidney's side, this was encouraging stuff.
"We had them under the cosh for long periods," said the Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll. "There were also far fewer unforced errors. But the overall feeling is that we have played well for 60 to 70 minutes and got punished for a couple of bad spells."
There were not 30 seconds on the clock when both All Black locks straightened the line and crossed the Irish 22. It was only a slow pass from Tom Donnelly to Anthony Boric that saved Ireland from going behind without laying a finger on the ball.
Yet Ireland never bent the knee. Their tackling was fiery, organised and relentless. Dan Carter flicked over a penalty on eight minutes, and it was only when Jonny Sexton took the restart that the home side entered the New Zealand half for the first time.
Sexton slotted home with a long-range kick, and although Carter then inched the All Blacks ahead Ireland had at least showed they were not going to let this develop into a jamboree for the visitors. After 20 minutes Eoin Reddan, Tommy Bowe and Brian O'Driscoll were heavily involved in a move to the All Black 22. It came to nought in the end but it was more positive than anything from them so far this November. When Sexton and Carter swapped penalties around the half-hour, this was a contest.
A minute later, Jamie Heaslip made huge ground over halfway. Reddan fed Sexton, who put the bubbling Heaslip away, and his shovel to Stephen Ferris put the big Ulsterman over. Sexton's conversion made it 13-9.
The problem with going ahead against New Zealand, though, is that they tend to take it personally. By the next time Ireland put points on the board, the All Blacks had rattled off 24 of their own. Boric stretched a long lock's arm to plant a try and the No 8 Kieran Read lumbered over for one of his own five minutes after the break. When the substitute second row Sam Whitelock trotted in for their third on 49 minutes they were 33-13 ahead.
Ireland never waved the game off as a done deal. Brian O'Driscoll scooped up the ball one-handed and tumbled over the line on the hour-mark. With a bit of luck – or a referee who was willing to sin-bin the perpetually offside Richie McCaw – they might have made a finish of it. Still, not the worst day of Kidney's reign. Not by a long shot.
Ireland R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy (all Leinster), R Best, T Court (both Ulster), D O'Callaghan,M O'Driscoll (both Munster), S Ferris (Ulster), D Wallace, J Heaslip (both Munster). Replacements J Hayes (Munster) for Court, 64, D Toner (Leinster) for M O'Driscoll, 50, D Leamy (Munster) for Wallace, 64, P Stringer for Reddan, 64,R O'Gara (Munster) for Kearney, 74, K Earls (Munster) for Fitzgerald, 56.
New Zealand M Muliaina (Cheifs); C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, H Gear (all Hurricanes); D Carter, A Ellis (both Crusaders); T Woodcock (Blues), H Elliot (Chiefs), O Franks (Crusaders), A Boric (Blues), T Donnelly (Highlanders), J Kaino (Blues), R McCaw, K Read (both Crusaders). Replacements A Hore (Hurricanes) for Elliott, 58, J Afoa (Blues) for Franks, 65, S Whitelock (Crusaders) for Donnelly, h-t, A Mathewson (Blues) for Ellis, 58, SB Williams (Crusaders) for Nonu, 58.
Referee Marius Jonker (South Africa)Reuse content