Late fateful call so cruel on Ireland

 

New Zealand 22 Ireland 19:THIS WAS, as Dan Carter noted afterwards, true test match rugby, but, as with David Pollock’s questionable late call in Melbourne which enabled Australia to beat Wales, memories of the World Cup final, the Rabo final and other big games came flooding back as a match hinged on a referee’s interpretation. It is happening far too often.

Taking the game and the gain line to the All Blacks at every opportunity, Ireland were the superior force for much of the last quarter. The vociferous 4,000 or so Irish fans were on their feet and outsinging a stunned home crowd in an AMI Stadium bursting to the seams. All in green believed a gorilla was about to be removed from the back of Irish rugby, and a first win ever over the All Blacks was within reach.

Entering the last six minutes, the score was tied at 19-all, a rattled All Blacks were down to 14 men as Ireland came knocking again. Mike Ross left the ball behind him from an Eoin Reddan pass. It appeared that the touch-judge Romain Poite signalled a questionable knock-on. Inside the All Blacks’ 22, the Irish scrum had applied three big shoves at the previous put-ins. So they did again, Nigel Owens letting Piri Weepu away with a delayed put in; a luxury not previously afforded Conor Murray.

Once more Cian Healy and co drove Ben Franks and co back. All Blacks debutant flanker Sam Cane broke from the scrum and pushed sideways against Healy. Gradually it twisted and then turned rapidly. But rather than give Ireland the penalty or the put-in, or opt for a reset, Owens pinged Ireland for deliberately wheeling. That was one way of interpreting it.

Mostly his.

Cue the inevitable All Blacks drive for victory as they upped their intensity and went through a dozen phases off the ensuing line-out. Save for the ball squirting forwards from one ruck when Richie McCaw picked and drove on, there could be no complaints with Owens correctly adjudging the mighty Sean O’Brien deflected Carter’s first drop goal wide. He didn’t miss second time round.

Another tight finish for Nigel then, and once again a game won by a home side with a dramatic last-ditch drop goal.

Ireland had much to reflect upon, not least the avoidable breakdown indiscretions by Rory Best, Dan Tuohy and Mike Ross which initially let Carter kick the All Blacks back into the game after Ireland’s 10-point salvo in the opening quarter.

These in turn emanated from Ireland again being utterly eclipsed at restart time. Aside from being more alert in their “receipts” (a defensive pod on the left for Carter’s left-to-right would help), Ireland need to be more adventurous with their own.

Carter’s supreme restarts are always hung high and short enough to compete for, and Ireland need to start emulating this rather than mostly kicking deep.

In response to the Aaron Smith try which put the home side in front in the 43rd minute (which originated in Richie McCaw winning Carter’s deftly chipped restart up the middle) Jonathan Sexton did likewise and Rob Kearney’s chase and jump forced a spillage.

It was the first restart Ireland won all night and their reward was an immediate three-pointer off an Irish scrum. Ronan O’Gara again improved Ireland’s restarts, and another Carter penalty was duly cancelled out after his restart up the middle was reclaimed. Restarts went a long way to deciding this game.

Born out of a slight sense of shame over the first Test, otherwise there was so much to commend in the Irish display. Intensity across the gain line and at the breakdown was heightened by the presence of Kevin McLaughlin, who added some hard tackling, straight running ballast as well as rucking.

So too O’Brien – a thumping hit on Carter was one to savour – and Jamie Heaslip eclipsed a weakened All Blacks back row. Even McCaw spilled the ball three times, although moving to number eight after half-time he was still immense.

Hard-working, ultra physical and athletic, Donnacha Ryan was again superb in the air and allowing for a couple of lost scrums and three lost lineouts, so too were the front-row. Healy saw off both Franks brothers, and was dominating Ben in the end game with Best and Ross – in his first game for a month – also still going strong at the end.

The cleaning out at the breakdown by all of them was outstanding, with O’Brien again a thorn in the All Blacks’ side. McLaughlin tired, as did Dan Tuohy, hungrier and more effective than last week, but there were big impacts from Peter O’Mahony and Donncha O’Callaghan.

Declan Kidney was also utterly vindicated in Conor Murray’s selection. Working off quicker ruck ball, his distribution was sharper and his box kicking higher and shorter, and backed up with strong chasing by Rob Kearney (against outstanding), Fergus McFadden and Andrew Trimble, they exposed Julian Savea’s weakness. Better still, Murray imposed his will on the game, not least with a well-taken blindside try after an ambitious penalty to the corner and line-out drive.

Jonathan Sexton kicked beautifully, off tee and out of hand, again tackled supremely and ran well, not least when shifted across after the departure of Gordon D’Arcy, who brought real balance to the midfield and a good range of his reinvented passing.

With Ronan O’Gara operating off Eoin Reddan’s sharp service, they really began to stretch and test the All Blacks, not least when Brian O’Driscoll charged up the middle at Sonny Bill Williams and co. With the great one leading the charge, for much of that final quarter the force was with Ireland. He and they deserved better than that fateful call by Owens. Oh, and they have the self-important Monsieur Poite next week!

Scoring sequence: 10 mins Murray try, Sexton con 0-7; 19 Sexton pen 0-10; 22 Carter pen 3-10; 30 Carter pen 6-10; 34 Carter pen 9-10; (half-time 9-10); 43 Smith pen, Carter con 16-10; 45 Sexton pen 16-13; 58 Carter pen 19-13; 64 Sexton pen 19-16; 69 Sexton pen 19-19; 80 Carter drop goal 22-19.

NEW ZEALAND: I Dagg (Canterbury Crusaders); Z Guildford (Canterbury Crusaders), C Smith (Wellington Hurricanes), S B Williams (Waikato Chiefs), J Savea (Wellington Hurricanes); D Carter (Canterbury Crusaders), A Smith (Otago Highlanders); T Woodcock (Auckland Blues), A Hore (Otago Highlanders), O Franks (Canterbury Crusaders), B Retallick (Waikato Chiefs), S Whitelock (Canterbury Crusaders),

A Thomson (Otago Highlanders), R McCaw (Canterbury Crusaders, capt), K Read (Canterbury Crusaders). Replacements: S Cane (Waikato Chiefs) for Read (half-time), B Franks (Canterbury Crusaders) for O Franks (58 mins), A Williams (Auckland Blues) for Retallick,

P Weepu (Auckland Blues) for A Smith (both 65 mins), Retallick for Thomson (66-70 mins), B Smith (Otago

Highlanders) for Savea (74 mins).

Not used: H Elliot (Waikato Chiefs), A Cruden (Waikato Chiefs). Sinbinned: Dagg (73 mins).

IRELAND: R Kearney (Leinster); F McFadden (Leinster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D’Arcy (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray ( Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D Tuohy (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), K McLaughlin (Leinster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster). Replacements: R O’Gara (Munster) for D’Arcy (51 mins), D O’Callaghan (Munster) for Tuohy (59 mins), P O’Mahony (Munster) for McLaughlin (62 mins), E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray (64 mins). Not used: S Cronin (Leinster), D Fitzpatrick (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

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