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Ireland v New Zealand: Gallant losers must learn fast

By Tony Ward

Good news firstthe best Irish performance of the November series by a mile. The bad? We still lost at home playing to the maximum of our ability and by 20.

Bear in mind too that while we were short Jerry Flannery, Tony Buckley, Tomas O’Leary and Paul O’Connell, New Zealand were missing at least half their regular starters when all are fit and well.

That, in the final analysis, is the brutal reality of what faces Declan Kidney and this gallant losing Irish squad as we move towards New Zealand 2011. But let us live in and deal in the here and now.

When individually and collectively a team gives everything it has got to give then no coach can ask for more.

Kidney gave his first up XV a vote of confidence following a dubious opening against South Africa and in fairness, by dint of honest to God graft and no little skill, they didn’t let him down. Yet still we were beaten on our own atmospheric patch.

Jamie Heaslip who — along with Stephen Ferris and Brian O’Driscoll was absolutely outstanding — suggested the final scoreline “failed to reflect the game”. There we agree to differ.

It did and that is the stark and scary reality. The All Blacks right now are that good.

Yes, as the Wallabies showed in Hong Kong you can get at them and and they are occasionally beatable, but it requires 80 minutes of no holds barred relentless intensity and as of now we are some way still from going that distance.

But credit where credit is due, this was a gutsy Irish performance to temporarily lift the spirit at a time when the nation needs it. Kidney will not be bowed by the loss, but equally he is sensible enough to appreciate that we and they are on different lanes to the World Cup.

Despite conceding four tries defence coach Les Kiss can take a bow, given the amount of possession the Kiwis enjoyed.

O’Driscoll and co can take particular solace given all four All Black tries came from forwards. How long since an All Black back failed to register a try over the course of a game?

Add to that almost 30 minutes in the second half when we held them scoreless.

It speaks volumes for where New Zealand rugby is at when, in losing to the world champions (South Africa) by just two and beating the Samoans by double scores, we were utterly depressed, yet when coming second to the Blacks by 20 we are almost euphoric in defeat.

It can be a funny old game by times.

On a more serious and practical note is the looseness on kick-off receipts. Here, for sure, the physical presence of Paul O’Connell is missed.

In a game in which possession has become even more than nine tenths of the law, re-securing it at the restart is more important than ever.

On Saturday we trailed a distant second in that key regard.

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