Ireland miss chance against All Blacks

 

Ronan O'Gara missed three penalties as Ireland came agonisingly close to recording their first ever win against the mighty All Blacks today.

The Irish stand-off finished the game on the bench and was left to reflect on a hat-trick of failures which allowed an unconvincing New Zealand to cling onto victory in Dunedin.

Winger Doug Howlett grabbed the opening try of the game for the home side six minutes before the interval but Ireland refused to buckle and only Leon MacDonald's late effort after a powerful burst from replacement Jonah Lomu ensure the expected home win.

It was tough luck on the Irish, who showed plenty of fire in the opening stages, forcing the All Blacks into a series of uncharacteristic mistakes which prevented them gaining any momentum.

O'Driscoll put the visitors in front in the fifth minute with a snap drop-goal, which might have been seen as poor reward for a concerted assault on the New Zealand line which failed to bring a try despite seven successive phases of possession.

Andrew Mehrtens quickly drew the All Blacks level with his first penalty chance but the expected onslaught failed to materialise as Ireland, led magnificently by Keith Wood, met their much vaunted opponents with a ferocious tackling stint.

O'Driscoll touched down but referee Joel Jutge had long since blown for a knock-on by Justin Bishop and New Zealand made the visitors pay by immediately sweeping down to the other end to grab the opening try.

Mehrtens spotted a hole in the Irish defensive line at a scrum 40 metres from the visitors' line and sprinted round the blind-side to take Justin Marshall's pass.

Ireland were exposed and Howlett appeared on his stand-off's shoulder to take the final pass and dart home unopposed.

Mehrtens landed the conversion but O'Gara missed a stoppage-time chance to reduce the arrears when he floated a 40 metre penalty attempt wide to the left.

Hopes among the home support that the half-time interval would shake the lethargy out of their team quickly evaporated as Ireland continued to force the pace.

O'Gara let the All Blacks off the hook again a minute later when he missed another simple penalty chance from 35 metres.

O'Gara finally found his range from 20 metres after a Kiwi hand had appeared in a ruck and All Black coach John Mitchell immediately replaced the ineffective Tana Umaga with Bristol-bound centre Daryl Gibson.

The next scoring chance again went to O'Gara and again he blundered, firing a 35-metre penalty wide to continue his personal kicking disaster.

With their fortunes still not improving, Jonah Lomu was thrown on for Howlett although the mighty winger's immediate impact was not particularly impressive, failing to hold onto the ball as he crumbled under Paul O'Connell's tackle.

O'Gara made way for David Humphreys with 10 minutes remaining as Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan gambled on his team being given more kickable penalty opportunities.

But they never came, and Lomu came into his own against the tiring visitors' defenders, blasting to the 22-metre line and sucking the Irish troops under the own posts, allowing MacDonald the space to speed home in the corner to seal New Zealand's scrappy win.

PA