Ireland suffer last-minute heartbreak against All Blacks
Ryan Crotty’s late converted try ends Ireland’s hope of a first victory over New Zealand
New Zealand’s Ryan Crotty crosses the line to score in the final minute of the autumn international against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland 22 New Zealand 24: The sporting world is a cruel, cruel place. At the end even a chance for Paul O’Connell’s team to stand beside the 1973 10-10 draw at this stadium was snatched away by referee Nigel Owens.
Aaron Cruden had missed the conversion of Ryan Crotty’s 82nd-minute try but Owens allowed the New Zealand flyhalf to have another shot as he judged the Irish rushers had left the line too quickly.
Until that moment we were witnessing a historic, magical moment in Irish sport.
But instead it is just another defeat to a team Ireland have never been able to topple.
Just before the hour mark Ma’a Nonu took a pass in the wide channel but before he could bamboozle Luke Fitzgerald – in for the concussed Brian O’Driscoll – with a power step. Untouched, he stumbled and fell. Fitzgerald pounced.
Such occurrences happened enough times for everyone watching this to believe this would be the day the All Black hoodoo would finally be broken.
Denis Hickie said earlier in the week that the only way to beat New Zealand was if every Irish player had a dream game.
And so it came to pass.
The only way to deal with that opening 40 minutes is a blow by blow account.
So many were landed by Ireland. And not just usual suspects like Seán O’Brien and Cian Healy.
Devin Toner was scrapping with O’Connell to get in ahead of his captain and smash the big All Black forwards. One gang tackle on Charlie Faumuina seemed to rock the tourists’ confidence.
Doubt crept into their psyche and ran through their ranks like a virus.
Mike Ross made at least six thudding tackles (and he owned Wyatt Crockett in the scrum).
Tommy Bowe started like he had something to prove. He proved it.
Rory Best decided to perform like a Test match wing forward, brilliant for 14 minutes until he broke his arm.
Gordon D’Arcy was phenomenal but Conor Murray was arguably better than anyone else on the field.
His recall changed the Irish offence for the better. His running threat and strength delivered a try after just four minutes, lugging three of the bigger Kiwi bodies over the line with him.
Nonu responded more than any other New Zealander, bludgeoning his way through midfield.
D’Arcy and O’Driscoll were with him all the way, grounding the game’s most ferocious rugby player before he could create a try.
Best’s try on 10 minutes should never be forgotten. The Ulster hooker was involved in the attack on three occasions as rumbles by O’Brien and Healy eventually saw Best step inside the largely anonymous Kieran Read.
That’s right, Read – a shoo-in for IRB player of the year – wasn’t mapped in the first half.
The third Irish try belonged to the Kearney brothers. Dave Kearney emptied Israel Dagg on the left touchline, well inside his own half and the ball spilled lose for his elder brother to outsprint Read over 60 metres.
The stadium, muted and rarely full for so many years now, felt like 1991 all over again. The same pain followed. It doesn’t get any easier as you get older.
Sexton’s conversion hit the post but the general was having a fantastic game, in both defence and as the orchestrator of Ireland’s attack. His partnership with Murray finally clicked.
His 34th-minute penalty made it 22-7. It was an acceptable response to Cruden’s perfectly weighted grubber that put Julian Savea racing under the posts.
Sexton’s hamstring was at him and he’ll have a headache tonight, compliments of a Nonu smash, but he was never going to leave the field.
Nor would O’Driscoll. He needed treatment for that dodgy calf as everyone filed off the pitch but he was so clearly up for the war.
There was one ruck that O’Connell and O’Driscoll disrupted that rubbished any notion about age was creeping up on them.
That moment prompted the old Lansdowne roar to return. As did so many incidents; Toner was looking for a fight, dispelling any doubts about his international pedigree.
Joe Schmidt knows his players best.
Cruden and Aaron Smith, New Zealand’s tiny halfback partnership, tried to spark a revival but it wasn’t happening for them because Jamie Heaslip, Peter O’Mahony and O’Brien were constantly in their faces.
The early second-half onslaught was momentarily stalled by Toner stealing Dan Coles’s first throw after he replaced the retired Andrew Hore.
Fifty minutes seemed like a seminal moment. Nonu, Read and Dagg pounded into the Irish defence, so close to the try line, but Murray and O’Brien in particular refused to bend.
The only reward for their endeavours was a Cruden penalty.
It also marked the end of O’Driscoll and Dagg. The great Irish centre concussed himself with a trademark hit on the colossal Brodie Retallick.
The independent doctor on the sideline may have intervened to make that decision.
Cruden had a chance to reduce the deficit to nine points but his long-range penalty fell well short.
But the game was firmly rooted in Ireland’s 22 now.
It was an inevitability that one of them, it was Ben Franks, would find a chink of light to touch down.
Cruden’s conversion made it 22-17 with 15 minutes remaining.
Toner and Ross followed O’Mahony off the field, all three looking utterly, heroically drained.
As Healy was next to stumble off on 69 minutes the marvellous sound of The Fields of Athenry swept unprompted around the shiny new stadium.
Seven minutes remaining now. O’Connell’s Ireland went back to their lineout maul. Everyone piled in. Owens awarded a penalty that would have made it an eight-point game.
Sexton missed it and that was his day done. In came Ian Madigan.
That was the moment to kill New Zealand.
It got as feral as sport could get. Deccie Fitzpatrick made three important carries up the guts.
And then it happened again; Nonu dropped the ball forward.
Yet, it wasn’t over. As the clock turned red New Zealand inched into Ireland’s half. And into the 22 they came, Coles putting Crotty over in the corner to give Cruden a touchline conversion.
Eventually, he slammed the final nail in the coffin.
Utter ruin now but what a performance by some of Ireland’s finest men.
Scoring sequence - 4 mins: C Murray try, 5-0; J Sexton conv, 7-0; 10 mins: R Best try, 12-0; J Sexton conv, 14-0; 17 mins: R Kearney try, 19-0; 25 mins: J Savea try, 19-5; A Cruden conv, 19-7; 33 mins: J Sexton pen, 22-7. Half-time: 52 mins: A Cruden pen, 22-10; 64 mins: B Franks try, 22-15; A Cruden conv, 22-17; 80 mins: R Crotty try, 22-22; A Cruden conv, 22-24.
IRELAND: R Kearney; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin for R Best (14 mins, inj), L Fitzgerald for B O’Driscoll (52 mins), K McLaughlin for P O’Mahony (56 mins), M McCarthy for D Toner, D Fitzpatrick for M Ross (both 65 mins), J McGrath for C Healy (69 mins), I Madigan for J Sexton (75 mins).
NEW ZEALAND: I Dagg; C Jane, B Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden, A Smith; W Crockett, A Hore, C Faumuina; B Retallick, S Whitelock; S Lautua, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Replacements: D Coles for A Hore (42 mins), R Crotty for I Dagg (52 mins), O Franks for C Faumuina, L Messam for S Luatua (both 56 mins), B Franks for W Crockett (60 mins), B Barrett fort C Jane (65 mins).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).