New Zealand 12 Ireland 23
The postscript may focus on the red card, and two yellow cards, which the All Blacks incurred inside a wild and wacky first half-hour in an opening period which lasted almost an hour. But by any yardstick, this was a totally deserved, as well as historic, first win on New Zealand soil.
Ireland had more possession and more penetration, dominating large tracts of the game from the off. Ireland let them off the hook when failing to make a two-man advantage into a 17-0 lead before the All Blacks roared back to make it 10-7 at the break, but Andy Farrell’s side resumed their dominance after the break.
In many respects, Ireland played better when the sides had the same number of players, be it 15 v 15 or 14 v 14, than when they had a one- or two-man advantage.
The main blemish on a memorable night in the enclosed Forsyth Barr Stadium was the sight of Jonathan Sexton, after another masterful conductor-in-chief display, limping off in the 73rd minute, to be followed by Peter O’Mahony for an apparent HIA.
Ireland will need their warriors in Wellington next week now, for after the important second meeting with the Maoris on Tuesday, they have set up a series decider next Saturday in Wellington. Well, well, well.
Ireland led from the third minute to the last, never relinquishing their control until that unsteady end to the first period. Playing positively throughout, some of their animation and work-rate off the ball flummoxed the All Blacks’ defence, with Sexton pulling the strings and engineering three clean line breaks with disguised short passes.
Two of them were by Tadhg Beirne, who had the proverbial blinder. Andrew Porter augmented another impressive shift, not least at scrum time, with a brace of tries, as Sexton was unerring off the tee. James Ryan, O’Mahony, Caelan Doris and Robbie Henshaw all had blinders too.
It seemed unlikely that Ireland could possibly reproduce their strong start from the first Test, but they exploded out of the traps, with Mack Hansen rapidly justifying his selection. Good lineout pressure forced Aaron Smith to box kick and from Hansen’s fine take and recycle, Beirne made a clean break from inside halfway on to Sexton’s disguise short pass, with the All Blacks distracted by the options out the back.
Beirne possibly should have passed to the supporting Garry Ringrose with two players on his outside but even so, Hansen kept the ball in play. Ireland went wide right and again made yards before Sexton used an advantage pay with a reprise of the play which made the initial inroads as Porter showed great leg strength to break Quinn Tupaea’s tackle. Sexton popped over the close-range conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The All Blacks responded in customary style, generating quick ball and width, but Ryan made a vital steal when the home side kicked a penalty into the Irish 22.
The officials were perhaps more alert to All Blacks players taking out opposing players beyond the ruck, Dalton Papalii being pinged and Sexton going up the line, but Henshaw fumbled a pass from Dan Sheehan off a promising launch play.
Even so, Sexton made a fine cover tackle on Reiko Ioane and the strength of Doris over the ball earned a 40-metre penalty which Sexton nailed, despite a fair amount of boorish booing.
When Jamison Gibson-Park went blind off a solid scrum and Hansen kicked cleverly up the line, he was taken out late and dangerously by Leicester Fainga’anuku, who caught him with a shoulder to the head. The crowd again booed, preposterously, when the winger was given a yellow card – which was the minimum punishment required.
Ofa Tu’ungafasi came through from the side to stymie the maul and earn a turnover from which Josh van der Flier broke too early. Sexton twice stressed the All Blacks defence with a clever chip and then a blindside counter, when Tu’ungafasi took out Ringrose off the ball and was binned.
So Ireland had two minutes – or one play – against 13 men. Ireland opted for a scrum, meaning the All Blacks had to bring on Angus Ta’avao and sacrifice Papalii for 10 minutes.
But the All Blacks, in desperation, upped their intensity in defending their own line and not always legally, as they do, with one side entry and deliberate knock-down. But Ireland also lost their shape and couldn’d apply any width before refereee Jaco Peyper spotted a knock-on. Sexton was livid.
Worse followed when James Lowe worked a switch with Ringrose, who was clattered, head on head, by an upright Ta’avao and after lengthy deliberation, Peyper brandished a red card.
The All Blacks survived by hook or by crook, Codie Taylor taking out one Irish player by the legs at a lineout maul before both Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane came in from the side. They were all yellows, in any language, but Peyper instead spoke to Cane.
When Ireland again opted for a scrum, the All Blacks now had to sacrifice Ardie Savea to bring on a second tighthead Aidan Ross. The All Blacks also went to uncontested scrums, so Beauden Barrett had to go into the backrow. Sexton worked the two-man advantage by hitting Lowe out the back but the winger knocked on, with Hugo Keenan and Hansen to his outside and the gilt-edged chance of a 17-0 lead evaporated.
Whether trying to brazenly pull a fast one or not, the All Blacks brought back on three players and brought off one before a lengthy stoppage concluded with Savea having to leave the pitch, as he’d been brought off in light of the red card.
A ricochet earned the All Blacks a lineout inside halfway and a procession of penalties against Ireland culminated in Ryan being sinbinned for not rolling away and the All Blacks pounded away until the ball came off Beauden Barrett’s boot over the Irish line and he dived on the loose ball for a somewhat fortunate, yet almost inevitable, try.
So, instead, it was 10-7 at the break, Ireland having scored 10 points from seven visits to the opposition 22, while the home side had seven points from one visit, and the All Blacks had a lifeline.
Nonetheless, Ireland returned with renewed intent and began stressing the All Blacks’ defence. Another nicely worked move saw Sexton release Bundee Aki around the corner and he linked with Peter O’Mahony. A couple of recycles later Beirne again pierced the black defensive line off a short pass by Sexton again, Ireland then resorting to route one for Porter to rumble over for his second try. Sexton converted for a 17-7 lead.
The All Blacks occasionally sprang to life, but the sight of a semi-clad streaker enlivened the capacity 18,191 crowd more than anything else in the second period.
Incredibly, and probably to Irish supporters’ relief, the response of Ian Foster and co to being two scores and a man down was to bring on Richie Mo’unga and take off as a direct replacement for Beauden Barrett, their best gamebreaker. That change took place just as Sexton was making it 20-7 with a penalty for offside after another eye-catching patch of running rugby, Beirne taking another good line and offloading deftly to the supporting Doris.
Two scrum penalties further underlined Ireland’s control, and a tap tackle by Beirne prevented Jordan Barrett breaking free while Doris won another penalty in the jackal.
The All Blacks had to run from deep, but Henshaw sprinted off the defensive line to make a superb tackle on Mo’unga and when Sevu Reece went beyond the ruck to take out Aki – the officials really were wise to that – Sexton made it a three-score game.
There was even the satisfaction of a third scrum penalty with a changed frontrow against the reconfigured All Blacks scrum. The biter was bitten as the All Blacks were held up over the line three times before Jordan Barrett stood up Joey Carbery for Will Jordan to score a try in the corner.
It was neither much of a consolation for the home side nor an irritant for the away side, as many pockets of Irish supporters threw their hands into the heavens to thank the roof above.
SCORING SEQUENCE — 3 mins: Porter try, Sexton con 0-7; 14: Sexton pen 0-10; 40 (+1): B Barrett try, J Barrett con 7-10; (half-time 7-10); 49: Porter try, Sexton con 7-17; 56: Sexton pen 7-20; 68: Sexton pen 7-23; 78: Jordan try 12-23.
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett (Hurricanes); Sevu Reece (Crusaders, Tasman), Reiko Ioane (Blues), Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs), Leicester Fainga’anuku (Crusaders); Beauden Barrett (Blues), Aaron Smith (Highlanders); George Bower (Crusaders), Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues); Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), Scott Barrett (Crusaders); Dalton Papalii (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs, capt), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes).
Replacements: Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs) for Papalii (26-36 mins). Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs) for Papalii (26-36), Aidan Ross (Chiefs) for Savea (31), Patrick Tupulotu (Blues) for (Retallick 48-56), Will Jordan (Crusaders) for Fainga’anuku (49), Samisoni Taukei’aho (Chiefs) for Taylor, Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders) for Beauden Barrett (both 56), Folau Fakatava (Highlanders) for (62), Pita Gus Sowakula (Chiefs) for Papalii (69).
Sinbinned: Fainga’anuku (17-27 mins), Tu’ungafasi (25-35).
Sent-off: Angus Ta’avao (31 mins).
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); James Ryan (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).
Replacements: Bundee Aki (Connacht) for Ringrose (31 mins), Rob Herring (Ulster) for Sheehan, Jack Conan (Leinster) for Doris, Cian Healy (Leinster) for Porter, Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong (all 64), Kieran Treadwell (Ulster) for Beirne, Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park (both 68), Joey Carbery (Munster) for Sexton (73), Doris for O’Mahony (76).
Sinbinned: Ryan 40-50 mins).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU).