New Zealand 27 Ireland 17: McAlister ends Irish hopes

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The Independent Online

Ireland's captain, Brian O'Driscoll, believes his team's fighting spirit in Auckland took them within a whisker of breaking a century-old winless run against New Zealand.

A late try from the home fly-half Luke McAlister saw the All Blacks to a 27-17 victory, and a 2-0 success in the series after last week's 34-23 win in Hamilton. O'Driscoll said: "When we got within three points of them we felt we had them on the rack."

Conditions were terrible, with periods of torrential rain playing havoc with ball control. O'Driscoll admitted it was often a liability to be in possession, adding: "I'm sure it wasn't vintage rugby, and the stats will show there were a lot of scrums for knock-ons. But we have always known that if we can put phases together we are capable of beating any team in the world. It showed the fighting spirit of the side to come back."

The All Blacks built a 20-0 lead after a fifth-minute try to the scrum-half Byron Kelleher and a controversial try in the 27th minute to the prop Clarke Dermody. The lock Chris Jack seemed to have dropped the ball before Dermody scored.

Ireland protested but then responded in the best fashion possible when the scrum-half Peter Stringer took a tap penalty and fed the lock Paul O'Connell five metres from the New Zealand line. He was taken to ground but was not held, and regained his feet to score.

A minute before the break O'Connell secured a line-out five metres from the All Blacks line. The Irish drove around him and the hooker Jerry Flannery scored. Ronan O'Gara converted both tries, and 12 minutes into the second half landed a penalty to get Ireland to within three points of their hosts.

But that was as close as they got, and although the All Blacks had to defend solidly they never looked like cracking, with the win sealed by McAlister's try and conversion in the 70th minute. "Games like tonight give you a lot of confidence that you can stay with them," said Ireland's coach, Eddie O'Sullivan. "I wouldn't panic about having to play New Zealand again."

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, C Laulala, A Mauger, J Rokocoko; L McAlister (D Hill, 74), B Kelleher; C Dermody (N Tialata, 67), K Mealamu (A Hore, 74), C Hayman, C Jack, T Flavell (G Rawlinson, 53), J Kaino (C Newby, 67), R So'oialo, R McCaw (capt).

Ireland: G Murphy (G Dempsey 46-52); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, A Trimble (Dempsey, 75); R O'Gara, P Stringer (I Boss, 75); M Horan (B Young, 72), J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, N Best (M O'Driscoll, 74), D Leamy, D Wallace.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).