Sunday’s narrow loss to best team in world showed anything is possible
Nigel Owens a key figure in a classic contest and another dramatic endgame
It is also no coincidence that Owens has now presided over the best two games of the year. But, a la Nicky Evans landing a match-winning drop goal in the fourth minute of overtime against Stade Francais in 2009 after Harlequins had recycled the ball 29 times, Munster’s epic win over Northampton in 2011 courtesy of Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal after 40 phases, not to mention Dan Carter’s match-winning drop goal in Christchurch, dramatic, prolonged endgames do have a funny habit of following him around. Perhaps this is a little unfair, and merely reflects how rugby games are so open to being interpreted differently by any individual referee on any given day.
Perhaps Ireland, wilting, did lose a little of their accuracy at the breakdown as well as line speed in defence, for it was that accuracy, usually with just two or occasionally three men clearing out All Blacks beyond the ball, which was as important as the handling and hard running – an example being the excellent Mike Ross blowing Read off the ball after Conor Murray had supported Seán O’Brien’s gallop up the middle in the build-up to Rory Best’s try.
That this approach sparked a classic is small consolation. In one fell swoop the Aviva could have made its mark. It would have been the ground where Ireland had had their finest one-off win ever. It could have become the fortress which the players are striving to make it.
But at least this game should generate confidence. The opening Six Nations game is against Scotland at 3pm on Sunday, February 2nd, with an atmosphere guaranteed for the Welsh six days later, but there can be no excuses about Sunday kick-offs after this.
The All Blacks brought out the best in both Irish team and supporters alike. Thank the lord for the haka too, for it even had 50,000 people in their seats before kick-off. Last Sunday showed all manner of things are possible.