All Blacks too strong for Ireland A
Ireland A 30 New Zealand 43
|New Zealand’s Paul Miller charges through the Ireland A defence|
13/11/01: A stunning debut by full-back Ben Blair, who contributed 38 points including a hat-trick of tries, launched John Mitchell's reign as New Zealand coach in style at Ravenhill tonight.
Making their first appearance in Belfast for 12 years the All Blacks got their tour off to a winning start but their young midweek side, containing nine uncapped players, was well pushed by a spirited Ireland A outfit.
The aspiring All Blacks found themselves behind less than two minutes into their tour opening, Paddy Wallace punishing their offside on the 22nd minute with a penalty after lock Mick O'Driscoll had won a lineout and number eight Tony MacWhirter surged on in midfield.
Yet it was to be a false dawn for the home side with New Zealand's second string drawing level almost immediately and then taking the lead with a clinical try. Winger Anthony Horgan's missed touch, after fielding a probing diagonal by Blair, put Ireland under pressure and they infringed to give the young visiting full-back a straightforward equalising penalty chance.
Five minutes later Roger Randle showed just why he is such a prolific try scorer in New Zealand provincial rugby with a scorching run down the right wing.
Although he was finally tackled after coming inside, the All Blacks kept recycling until number eight Paul Miller forced his way over by the posts. Blair converted.
Former Australia Under-21 flanker Keith Gleeson, making his first appearance in a green jersey, could not hold the path in the left corner after Ireland had made ground from a lineout, but good pressure at the resulting scrum forced the visitors to miss touch.
Wallace dummied and broke brilliantly and, although Gavin Duffy could not get to O'Driscoll's chip for the corner, New Zealand were penalised and Wallace made it 6-10.
But a quite superb individual try by Blair, which he also converted, put New Zealand well clear midway through the half. He added a couple of penalties in the second quarter to give his side a more than healthy 23-6 interval lead.
Ireland applied brief pressure from the second half kick-off, and although New Zealand got up to halfway after Randle marked a Gary Owen, they gave Wallace two penalty chances in the space of five minutes and he was successful with both.
Wallace further eroded the All Blacks' advantage with his fifth penalty, but their reply was swift and stinging. Blair completed his hat-trick by bagging a brace of tries within a couple of minutes. He converted both to take his personal points tally to 32, but full-back Duffy sent Horgan in for a great Irish try, which was converted by Wallace who then landed a penalty with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The sight of Blair kicking two penalties in the final six minutes confirmed that the All Blacks saw this as a contest right to the end. Ireland did have the final word in injury time with another fine try from Horgan but it was a case of too little too late.
Ireland A: Duffy, A. Horgan, Holland, J. Bell, Howe, P. Wallace, O'Meara, Corrigan, Byrne, Best, Cullen, O'Driscoll, Quinlan, Gleeson, Costello. Replacements: Shields, Fitzpatrick, O'Connell, McWhirter, Willis, Dunne, McKenna.
New Zealand: Blair, Randle, Mauger, Ralph, Alatini, Hill, Robinson, Hewett, T. Willis, Meeuws, Waller, Maling, Collins, Holah, P. Miller. Replacements: Oliver, Feek, Jack, McClaw, Kelleher, Mehrtens, Lomu.
Tries: Horgan (2).
Penalties: Wallace (6)
New Zealand XV
Tries: Blair (3), Miller.
Conversions: Blair (4).
Penalties: Blair (5)