Sexton confident battling Irish can have last word
Jonathan Sexton was unable to kick Ireland to a maiden Test victory over New Zealand in Saturday's gripping second Test in Christchurch, but he is desperate for one more chance to defeat the world champions.
The fly-half kicked 14 points and stood out as Ireland's most potent threat, yet fell short with a penalty attempt from the halfway line which would have put the men in green three points ahead.
His kick came up agonisingly short and instead Dan Carter, his opposite number, slotted over a drop goal in the final minute to secure a 22-19 triumph for New Zealand and a 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
"We're pretty disappointed with the result," admitted Sexton. "It is a tough one to take but we've got one more Test against them, so we need to bounce back one more time.
"We saw a big improvement from the first to the second Test but I still think we made a lot of mistakes out there. We can improve again and we need to come back stronger," he added.
The scene was set in the early stages for an Irish display that would surpass their performance at Eden Park in the first Test, where they had admitted that they had let themselves down during a 42-10 defeat. And, with nine minutes played, the referee, Nigel Owens, blew for a penalty following an All Black infringement at a maul.
Sexton had a swift discussion with his captain, Brian O'Driscoll, before deciding to kick for an attacking line-out, rather than take the three points on offer. The decision was vindicated a minute later when scrum-half Conor Murray – who gave a confident account of himself – raced over to score.
"We had a very good, driving maul beforehand," Sexton said. "Brian asked what I thought we should do, so I said, 'put it in the corner'. We decided to go for it and it paid off, obviously, and put a bit of pressure on the All Blacks."
Sexton revealed that there was an abundance of confidence and positivity in the Irish dressing room at the break, as his side led 10-9, but, disappointingly after all their hard work, they allowed New Zealand to edge in front. "We gave them a very soft try straight after half-time, which was the worst thing we possibly could have done," Sexton said.
"We went six points behind but I was proud of the way we bounced back from that."
Sexton and his team-mates recognised that it was a safer option to retain possession and attempt line breaks rather than play for territory. "The referee was awarding the team with the ball a lot and it was hard to get the ball back," said Sexton.
"He wasn't rewarding the team in defence, it was more penalising them. When we began to hold the ball again in the second half we looked good and we got a few penalties."
Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain, admitted he was relieved to get away with the win: "We made mistakes and let them get momentum. We have got things to work on, but at the end we are happy."
Scorers: New Zealand: Try: A Smith. Conversion: Carter. Penalties: Carter 4. Drop goal: Carter. Ireland: Try: Murray. Conversion: Sexton. Penalties: Sexton 4.
New Zealand: I Dagg; Z Guildford, C Smith, A Williams, J Savea; D Carter, C Smith; T Woodcock, A Hore, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, A Thomson, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Replacements: H Elliot, O Franks, A Williams, S Cane, P Weepu, A Cruden, C Smith.
Ireland: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, A Trimble ; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Tuohy, D Ryan; K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, D O'Callaghan, P O'Mahony, E Reddan, R O'Gara, S Zebo.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
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