Former Irish captain and current forwards coach Paul O’Connell has conceded the first Test in Auckland Park was a frustrating night all round and that his pack’s set pieces misfired.
While acknowledging the ruthless efficiency of the All Blacks’ finishing in outscoring Ireland by 42-19 and six tries to three, O’Connell also admitted that in several ways Ireland were authors of their own downfall.
“It is frustrating and disappointing obviously. They are a very good side and they are always going to score tries. I suppose we cannot give them access to those tries which we did a little bit unfortunately with some of our play.
“They got field position and scored some tries with excellent skill and good attacking play but we had an exit lineout which we kind of executed but got turned over at the ruck and they scored pretty quickly,” said O’Connell in citing the All Blacks’ third try by Quinn Tupaea which emanated from a ruck turnover after Jamison Gibson-Park sniped off a lineout inside the Irish 22.
“We had an attack on their 22, unfortunately we put the ball down and they go the length of the field,” added O’Connell of the home side’s damaging second try when Sevu Reece latched on to a handling mishap between Garry Ringrose and James Lowe for an 80-metre breakaway try.
“Those kind of ones are the ones you can’t give away. For sure they will cut you open at times but those tries — that I just mentioned — are frustrating.
“And then from our own point of view, we were over the line a few times and that was tough. You need to take every single chance you can get; it is kind of similar to the Maori game the other night. We gave them a bit of a head start and then we had our chances to score but we just couldn’t seem to get the ball on the ground.
“It was a frustrating night all round.”
Ireland’s scrum and lineout were also put under pressure by the All Blacks and O’Connell pulled no punches in analysing his domain.
“It was poor last night, there is no doubt about it. From a scrum point of view, some of the interpretation is frustrating but that is something we need to address and figure out and then lineout wise, we had 17 lineouts but we lost four of them. Another one we won, but lost on the ground, so effectively we lost five lineouts.
“Two of them were actually really good lineouts, we just got our drill wrong a little bit. Two of them they got their defence right which you expect against New Zealand. They have a very good mirror line out and historically they have been very good against us.
“That was a frustrating part of our game. It is an important part of our game in terms of being able to play our game and maybe stop the opposition play as well when we have the ball and they don’t have it is good for us.
“Those parts of the game where we don’t help another team get into the game are things we will have to address.”
Another striking contrast between the sides in Eden Park on Saturday was the efficiency of the All Blacks’ finishing as against Ireland, who had vastly more territory, possession and time in the opposition but were held up five times over the New Zealand line.
“We probably have to do something a little bit different to get the ball on to the ground,” admitted O’Connell. “Some of our attack has come from getting that field position 10 or even five metres from their line; it is pretty heavy traffic and those are the ones where you can get held up because they put a lot of people around and under the ball.
“Last night the penalty count was 10-7 to New Zealand up until the last five or six minutes and then the ref gave us a few penalties towards the end of the game and that gave us field position to have those kind of attacks where you have a good chance of getting over the line but the chances of scoring are becoming less and less. It is getting very tricky in that part of the game.
“Teams are getting good at getting under the ball and stopping you and then it is a goal line dropout. You are not coming back to a five metre scrum like you used to, back in the day. That is two games in a row where we have had that situation, it has been frustrating for us. It is good for them defensively, it gives them good belief. But it is part of the game.
“The game is always evolving and it is another part of the game we need to figure out.”
Coming to New Zealand for a three-test series, and supplementing this with matches against the Maori All Blacks, was always going to be s significantly step from anything this side has faced since the last World Cup. In winning a dozen of their previous 13 matches, for example, nine of those victories were at the Aviva Stadium.
“I don’t know fully what the answer is,” said O’Connell when asked why it is so much harder to win away from home. “I know our boys really enjoyed playing in the Aviva Stadium. Being at home there, they enjoy the support there. We have done very well there recently.
“We probably haven’t been away from home as much as we should have in recent years. We haven’t had as many of these experiences as we should have. When we played in Paris this year, it was a tough experience for us but it was a different experience from what we have been used to.
“So what we have had to put up with, having to manage things being thrown at us the last two weeks while touring away from home, we are finding out a lot about ourselves as coaches, we are finding out a lot about ourselves as players.
“It is a real tough challenge and then when you get to the ground, you get to a place like Eden Park, it is a real tough challenge as well. They have a great record there historically. They want to protect that record. They want to perform well at home.
“New Zealand’s last two games they lost at home to us and to France, we always knew they would be good here and we probably need to be better playing away from home than we have been in recent games.”
O’Connell also reiterated that Johnny Sexton has not been ruled out of next Saturday’s second Test in Dunedin.
“Johnny passed his HIA 2 and he will do his HIA 3 in the next 24 hours. Dave Heffernan did not do a HIA so he has had a concussion confirmed so he is going to be out certainly out until the third test.”