All Blacks express relief as Ireland lose belief
Ireland coach praises his players but admits late loss is hard to take
All Black captain Richie McCaw wears the scars of the match following the game against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images
What can be said after that? A chance of history snatched from Ireland’s grasp at the death by the seemingly unstoppable All Blacks winning machine.
When they talk about sport being cruel these are the moments they are referring to, when maximum effort and energy is expended for absolutely no tangible reward.
Joe Schmidt will have plenty of positives to take from this game, in which Ireland manoeuvred themselves into a 19-0 lead after 19 minutes, thanks to tries from Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney, but ultimately succumbed to the inevitable with the very last kick of the game, but none of them will matter a jot to him or his players right now.
They’re as low as they can go after watching the visitors cross twice before dotting down a third through Ryan Crotty in the very last play of the game. Even a draw was denied them when Aaron Cruden was afforded the opportunity to retake the conversion after encroachment led by Luke Fitzgerald.
“A draw was as good as a loss to us today,” said Schmidt when asked he if he had any gripes over Nigel Owens’ decision to grant the outhalf another shot at the posts. “We haven’t won in 108 years against those guys, there has been draw before and we didn’t want to do what had already been done before.”
On that subject, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen had already opined: “Rules are rules”.
With that final act in an historic year, the All Blacks maintained a remarkable winning streak and ended 2013 unbeaten.
“It was a step forward but a missed opportunity and you don’t get that many opportunities to play against the All Blacks and you don’t get too many opportunities to stop them doing something pretty special,” said Schmidt.
“Fourteen games out of 14 is pretty phenomenal and if we had been the only ones to knock them over it would have been a feather in the lads’ cap and I just think that they really did give it everything.
“We lost a few guys to injury and we started to look a little bit piecemeal out there. It’s always a risk that you run but I thought we were pretty dynamic in the first 20 minutes and we were pretty good for the lead we made. In the second half they put a lot of pressure on us
“I think the defence at the end was massively disappointing, but I think it’s cumulative. We made a lot of tackles in the second half and I think that started to show and we had a couple of guys who were out on their feet a little bit and a couple of guys who were knocked around a bit.”
The intention at halftime, with his side 22-7 to the good, was to keep attacking, said Schmidt, and not just try and “shut them down”, but it all began to “take its toll”.
Hansen suggested there was more to it than just Ireland’s physical exertions. The Kiwi opened his press conference by commending a “sensational performance” that had his side “rattled”.
“They can take a lot of credit out of their performance. In saying that I’m extremely proud of the 23 guys we had in our group today. To come from where they came from and claw their way across the line shows what a special team they are.”
He added later that the Ireland players might have been guilty of not backing themselves at crucial times.
“It’s important for the Irish folk here to realise that this wasn’t a case of the All Blacks not turning up today, they turned up but the Irish turned up as well. We expected them to be tough, we know they are tough, but sometimes I don’t know that they believe they are as tough as they are.”
His captain Richie McCaw was alongside him, bloodied and relieved, admitting to “mixed emotions” having just got over the line in a contest he said would have been over had Jonathan Sexton’s 73rd minute penalty not slid past the right-hand upright.
“I think when they took their shot at goal they would have put it out to eight points. The reality is if that had gone over the game was probably over.”
His counterpart Paul O’Connell was in no doubt as to how he felt, “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the final phases of the game where Ireland where unable to keep New Zealand out after conceding a penalty 60 metres from their own line.
“You have to give credit to them and their character as well. They’ve had some tight games and they’ve stayed calm, stayed cool and they stayed collected and got over the line. It’s credit to them but we are bitterly disappointed. “
New Zealand, he said, are “further down the line” than Ireland, and yes, Hansen might have a point.
“They have that momentum that comes from confidence, we probably haven’t got that yet, that belief that comes from confidence. Everything becomes a little easier when you have that confidence, that momentum, and we don’t have that yet. But I think we’ll get it.”