In Pictures: Defeat, but it’s not all black for Ireland
Ireland 18 New Zealand 38: A week earlier we had the Haka-Light, courtesy of Samoa. On Saturday we got the 100 per cent proof version by the All Blacks.
Ireland lost to that second Blue Label set of warriors, but the manner of their defeat ought to have heartened them.
For a start they know that they will not face better opponents than those who outscored them by four tries to two on Saturday.
The All Blacks have mastered all the skills of rugby football and taken the playing of the game to a new dimension.
We saw South Africa, the World Cup holders, a fortnight earlier and Saturday’s Dublin visitors are a different class.
The All Blacks, undoubtedly, are the world’s best for the simple reason that they get more things right more often than everyone else.
They can throw the ball about where that is appropriate.
Or they can bring it in, sapping opponents’ physical strength and eroding morale by slowing things down.
To that extent they are snake-like. But which snake?
The rapid cobra with its lethal, venomous bite or the boa constrictor which wraps itself around its victim and squeezes the last breath from them?
It really doesn’t matter since the end result is the same; either way you die.
But Ireland died with dignity at the sword of the best and their metaphoric demise was sufficiently noble to have restored some wounded pride and boosted badly needed confidence.
They were not annihilated as had been feared.
Instead, with just over half-an-hour played they led 13-9, having scored the only try of the match to that point. One could speculate as
to what might have happened had they succeeded in reaching the interval with their own goal line intact.
But they didn’t; lock Anthony Boric stepped inside Cian Healy too easily from a line-out and the magnificent Dan Carter converted, just as he had on four earlier occasions from penalties.
As a result a four-point lead after 31 minutes became a six-point interval deficit.
Two more tries — each of those converted, too — in the first eight minutes of the second half proved decisive. Suddenly New Zealand were 33-13 ahead.
Kieran Read, the tourists’ hugely impressive No 8, and replacement lock Sam Whitelock, got those.
But the All Blacks were not 20 points superior, regardless of what the scoreboard read then or at the final whistle.
Where they were better was in their decision-making and in their clinical execution.
When they created opportunities, they took them.
Brian O’Driscoll admitted afterwards: “We played well for about 67 minutes but a 10 minute period before and after half-time cost us. A team of their class is able to punish us for lapses and we were chasing the game after that.
“We take a lot of positives from the game as we played some really good rugby and are proud of our display.”
Ireland must learn to be clinical. And they do have a platform now, both setpieces having improved significantly.
As a result of possession coming from Saturday’s scrum and line-out, far more was seen of the home backs’ creativity than before and Ireland looked a much better team.
O’Driscoll was outstanding, with his 57th minute try an example of skill and courage of the highest order.
Somehow, at full speed, he managed to bend and scoop up Rob Kearney’s pass — intended for Jamie Heaslip — powering his way through three would-be tacklers on the line before finding the strength to ground the ball.
That was sheer brilliance on the part of a man we afterwards learned had played on after suffering a first-half shoulder injury.
Heaslip, too, had an outstanding match as did his back row partner Stephen Ferris, with the former releasing the latter for the game’s opening try, albeit that the final pass at the end of a thrilling passage did look a tad forward.
If South African referee Marius Jonker missed that, it wasn’t the only one.
On the plus side his policing of the scrum was a lot better than that of New Zealander Keith Brown had been a week earlier.
With six minutes remaining Keith Earls got close enough to warrant consultation with Welsh TMO Hugh Watkins whose ruling was that the replacement had grounded the ball on the touchline.
Read’s last-minute score, in which full-back Mils Muliaina played a key part, flattered the victors and rubbed salt in the wound.
But it did not change the fact that Ireland are back on track.