Ireland started this game well and enjoyed the better of the opening 20 minutes. Their attacking play was very encouraging after some of the stodge served up in recent years. Sexton looked to put width on the ball and got his backline running from depth. The outhalf also added a few well-judged kicks in behind the All Blacks to mix play up. Ireland managed to create several openings (see Keith Earls at 22.05 in vid) but crucially didn’t take any of these half-chances.
The All Blacks were uncharacteristically sloppy during that period and indeed, after the opening quarter, the handling errors were 5-0 in Ireland’s favour. But the hosts recovered in supreme fashion. Savea’s massive hit on Kearney in the 18th minute (27.00) allowed Carter to stroke over a gorgeous penalty from half-way to make it 9-3 on the scoreboard. With that, the All Blacks started to take control. A sustained period of pressure inside the Irish 22 ultimately led to the game’s first try.
Ireland actually managed to repel the original attack and O’Brien won one of many Irish penalties at the breakdown. That phase of defending clearly tired the Irish as first Sexton got very little distance on the penalty and then Murray’s poor box kick was clinically punished by the All Blacks. The scrumhalf’s kick went from Ireland’s 22 to the NZ 10 metre line, far too long. The Irish chase could perhaps have been better, but Murray’s kick is the dream scenario for a counter-attack.
The All Blacks recognised the situation immediately. They were ruthless in taking the opportunity. Earls and McFadden should have done better with the switch between Conrad Smith and SBW, but it was clearly advantage to the attacking team in that situation. Smith took out two defenders, then so too did Williams with his offload. Carter actually had three options to give the scoring pass. A sniff of a try and every single one of the All Blacks snapped into action. Clinical. (Starts at 34.35).
That was actually Murray’s second overly-long kick of the game. Check out 21.40 for a similar kick earlier in the game. This weakness in Murray’s game is something I’ve mentioned before. Munster conceded a strikingly similar try against Northampton earlier this season. Overall, the kicks summed up a poor display from the scrumhalf. Before the game, I backed him to provide speedier service than usual but it didn’t happen. Reddan must start next Saturday, especially if Ireland look to spread the ball again. All Blacks’ debutant Aaron Smith showed Ireland exactly what they were missing with his crisp delivery. Smith has since claimed he wants to speed the game up even more next weekend.
The 2nd All Blacks try also originated from an Irish mistake. In the 34th minute, Ireland knocked a penalty into the corner 5 metres from the NZ tryline. An efficient lineout followed and then Murray hit O’Driscoll on a flat line. The captain threw a poorly judged offload and the All Blacks countered the length of the field. After the match, O’Driscoll spoke about the need for Ireland to be more patient in attack. I’ve no doubt he was talking about himself. It was a superb opportunity for Ireland to score before the break, completely wasted. (Starts at 43.57).
3 minutes after O’Driscoll’s offload attempt, Savea bashed over Kearney in the left-hand corner. While Israel Dagg showed decent footwork and a nice pass to put Savea down the touchline, the try really showed that Fergus McFadden is not an international-level winger, defensively at least. He’s a centre and should play there from now on. Essentially, the situation was a three-on-three and there was no need for McFadden to bite in. NZ exposed him badly, taking two phases in close after the lineout and then attacking down the blindside in McFadden’s channel. (Starts at 48.06).
So Ireland went from an attacking situation where they could have reduced a 16-3 deficit just before the break, to going in 23-3 down at half-time. This was further compounded by conceding within 5 minutes of the second-half. There’s a strange similarity here between Ireland’s rugby and football teams this weekend. Trapattoni’s men conceded in the 43rd and 48th minutes, while Kidney’s side let in scores in the 37th and 43rd minutes. Both 5-minute spells proved to be decisive in the games. Something in the Irish psyche?
Savea’s hattrick try just after half-time was the killer blow. Once again, the All Blacks’ possession stemmed from an Irish error. Attacking down the short side, o’Driscoll left a pass behind Earls and NZ won a lineout. Again, the All Blacks immediately recognised the opportunity. While it wasn’t quite a quick lineout, the ball came out of touch sppedily. Sonny Bill banged it up the middle, then Earls got too narrow in defence, allowing Retallick to offload. In that kind of space, Carter, Dagg and Savea are lethal. Simon Zebo should have done better with his covering tackle, but the damage was done earlier. (Starts 58.35).
With Carter kicking accurately from the tee that was 30-3 and Ireland done and dusted. They managed a consolation score after good work from Rory Best. McFadden got the chance to show his pace but it was an opportunistic try rather than a cleverly constructed score. (Starts 1.06.15). Thomson crossed for the All Blacks’ in the 55th minute immediately after the impressive Declan Fitzpatrick left the field. Ireland’s scrum went backwards and with Heaslip’s head down trying to scrummage, the space was there for Read to offload. (1.14.14).
The All Blacks became less clinical after that score, which meant that Ireland were spared more punishment on the scoreboard. They didn’t score again until the 78th minute, when Conrad Smith straightened his line in between two inexperienced players, Darren Cave and Zebo. One of the two should have got a hit in on Smith, but both made bad reads and the classy New Zealander went through untouched. Both players will have learned from it, and hopefully they get a chance to improve next weekend.
So positives for Ireland? I was really impressed with Fitzpatrick on his debut. He certainly dealt with the considerable challenge of Tony Woodcock, and Ireland’s scrum was really solid until his departure. Hopefully, his glutes are ready for next weekend and he can get at least another 40 minutes in. Interestingly, Ireland dominated at the breakdown, winning lots of turnovers. The first 20 minutes was encouraging from Ireland. If they can be inspired by the All Blacks’ clinical finishing, we should see a few more scores on Saturday.
Still, the All Blacks will get stronger too. They are playing with a bit more freedom now that the World Cup monkey is off their backs. They are on a different level to Ireland, and it would be a miracle to beat them in the next two tests. However, there’s still value to be taken from the games. More of the attacking intent, cut out the unforced mistakes and see guys like Tuohy, Zebo, Fitzpatrick and Cave learn lessons from the step-up.
What did you make of the game? What changes would you make for next weekend? Who did well and who did poorly in your opinion? As always, any comments are welcome!
Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane, Nigel Snell, Adidas Italy.