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Ireland only themselves to blame, says Rory Best

Ireland 9 New Zealand 21

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 21/11/2016

Hands on: Ireland ace Rob Kearney does his best to halt New Zealand’s TJ Perenara at the Aviva
Hands on: Ireland ace Rob Kearney does his best to halt New Zealand’s TJ Perenara at the Aviva
Malakai Fekitoa

Once in 111 years didn't become twice in two weeks as Ireland fell to the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening.

The much-feared backlash after the back-to-back World champions lost in Chicago manifested itself only in the most physical of terms as Joe Schmidt's men were left battered and bruised without ever being put to the sword.

Indeed, the hosts often held the edge in terms of possession and territory but it was those in black displaying the greater cutting edge.

When New Zealand crossed the whitewash, this time Ireland could only respond with penalties - a trio apiece on that front - despite enjoying virtually two thirds of the ball.

There were controversial calls aplenty, starting in the 10th minute when Robbie Henshaw took the full force of Sam Cane's shoulder to the face with only a penalty awarded while Malakai Fekitoa had an eventful outing when scoring two tries and receiving a yellow card that Ireland felt could have been red.

Both players were cited, and face disciplinary hearings this week, and there were also question marks surrounding two of the visitors' scores.

Jonathan Sexton thought he had got back to get his arm underneath the ball when opposite number Beauden Barrett slid over the deadball line and referee Jaco Peyper refused to go to his TMO for the second of Fekitoa's tries when Ireland questioned if there had been a forward pass.

It was a familiar feeling for skipper Rory Best who had struggled with the same referee during the Six Nations defeat to France back in February.

Speaking post-match, the hooker, who will become the first Ulsterman to win 100 caps against Australia on Saturday, was keen to downplay any controversy.

"We're obviously looking to control what we can control," he said. "I think there were a few times where there was good communication, just other times maybe not so much.

"Ultimately, we have to make sure that we control those. For example, putting a ball down a couple of metres short on a lineout move. That has got nothing to do with the referee."

Ireland lost Henshaw, Sexton and CJ Stander to injuries in the first half, and Simon Zebo hobbled off late, but Kiwi coach Steve Hansen did not feel his side were overly physical.

In a sometimes spiky post-match interview - he replied only "yeah" when asked if he would speak to his players about high tackles - the World Cup winner believed it was not only his side displaying ill-discipline.

"Without seeing the tapes, I can't say that all the penalties are right or wrong but the ref said they were," Hansen stressed.

"He's seen us make 14 mistakes. The yellow cards, one was for coming around and attacking the half back, again I can't argue with it but what I would say is that I would like to see some consistency throughout the game because I saw the same things happening to us and no one got penalised let alone yellow-carded.

"The other yellow card for the high tackle was clumsy. I don't think it was malicious.

"It didn't impede him, he carried on playing. You just want consistency and when we look at the tape, we'll see how consistent it was."

If there was one saving grace to the enforced changes, it was how Ireland's young replacements acquitted themselves.

Garry Ringrose, who came on for Henshaw, grew in stature throughout and made some piercing breaks in the second half while Josh van der Flier again looked right at home at Test level.

Paddy Jackson, too, had his moments after replacing Sexton who was lost to a hamstring problem. By the time all three had come on in the first half, Ireland had already conceded.

After misplaying the kick-off, they touched the ball only once more before Fekitoa stepped inside Conor Murray and saw off the tackle of Jared Payne to score.

Barrett's controversial effort followed soon after but, as Best noted, nine points was never going to be enough to win.

When the visitors were reduced to 14 men for 20 minutes, Ireland only managed two penalties - compared to 12 points in 10 minutes two weeks ago - with their best chances involving the superb Sean O'Brien.

Between New Zealand's opening scores, he was held up by Barrett when seemingly certain to score after a strong charge forward by Jamie Heaslip.

A knock-on from a lineout move designed to send him streaking around the corner also saw seven points go begging in the second half.

Ireland dominated the third quarter - for evidence see the fact that New Zealand made 100 more tackles in the game - but by the time Rob Kearney's gathering of a loose ball led to a final missed opportunity, Fekitoa's second had already made the game safe.

IRELAND: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin (for Best, 67), C Healy (for McGrath, 57), F Bealham (for Furlong, 67), I Henderson (for Ryan 57), J van der Flier, K Marmion (for Zebo, 72), P Jackson (for Sexton, 17), G Ringrose (for Henshaw, 10).

New Zealand: B Smith; I Daag, M Fekitoa, A Lienert-Brown, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; L Squire, S Cane, K Read. Replacements: C Taylor (for Cole, 67), W Crockett (for Moody, 48), C Faumuina (for Franks, 51), S Barrett (for Squire, 67), A Savea (for Cane, 17), TJ Perenara (for A Smith, 58), A Cruden (for J Savea, 58), W Naholo (for B Smith, 72)

Referee: Jaco Peyper

Man of the match: Beauden Barrett

Match Rating: 8/10

Belfast Telegraph

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