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Devastated: Joe Schmidt rues one that got away after Ireland narrowly lose out to All Blacks

By Niall Crozier

Irish coach Joe Schmidt reflected ruefully on what he called a missed opportunity to create history by de-railing the All Blacks.

"I guess I'd sum it up as step forward but a missed opportunity," he said, the disappointment etched in his face.

"You don't get that many opportunities to play against the All Black and you don't get too many opportunities to stop them doing something very special – 14 out of 14, which is phenomenal.

"So if you'd been the only ones to knock them over, that would have been a feather in our cap."

He admitted that Ireland's failure to add a point to their 22-7 interval lead had robbed them of the chance to become the first Ireland side ever to beat the All Blacks in Test matches stretching back 108 years.

His synopsis of yesterday's absorbing battle was that Ireland had been "fairly dominant in the first 20 minutes and pretty good value for our lead."

That was a masterpiece of understatement – Ireland were exceptional in that pulsating first quarter, during which they scored three tries and converted two of them.

In the second half, however, Schmidt admitted that the world champions "put a lot of pressure on us." And that took its toll, a fact he highlighted by talking about the toll and cumulative effect of having had to make "a lot of tackles."

"It started to show," he said. "A couple of guys were out on their feet, a couple of guys were knocked around a bit. We were hanging on by a thread and the thread was just a little bit too thin."

Asked how he had felt at seeing his side turning round with a 15-point interval lead, Schmidt (pictured) recalled: "I've been in the reverse situation and a similar margin down to know that the game is not won.

"My feeling was that we needed to keep the attacking keep pressure on, because they're too good a team and have too many world class players so you can't shut them down, you have to keep going at them.

"We attempted to do that but for long periods we didn't have the ball and that started to take toll."

As for Jonny Sexton's critical penalty miss when Ireland led 22-17, Schmidt said there had been no question of injury or over-fatigue with the kicker at that moment

"He struck the penalty no problem at all. He'd been kicking well," he said.

Ireland's hope was to create an eight-point gap, in the hope of seeing out the final six minutes.

"The most disappointing thing was that we got ball back off them and were in possession with a minute to go. To be a minute away from history with ball in our hands on their 10-metre line, it's devastating," he sighed.

Captain Paul O'Connell was willing to look beyond what he called "the obvious disappointment" to the bigger picture.

Admitting that he was "disappointed" he compared where Ireland are in comparison to the All Blacks.

"When we gave that final penalty away 60 metres from our line or thereabouts I would have been vert confident – after the way we had been defending – that we'd hold them out at that stage, so I'm really disappointed."

And All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen piled on the misery when he claimed Ireland lacked the self-belief to hold out for a first victory over his side.

Hansen hailed a "sensational performance" from the Irish, but admitted they should probably have held on for a first ever win against the Kiwis.

"I would like to congratulate Ireland on a sensational performance," Hansen said.

"They rattled us and that wasn't the script. They can take a lot from their performance, but I'm incredibly proud of our 23: to claw their way across the line is a special effort.

"Maybe another day Ireland would have won it, but we'll take it, enjoy the summer and reflect on what's been a great year, but at the same time realise we've got a lot of work to do to stay where we are."

Hansen said there was nothing controversial about the retake for Aaron Cruden's conversion that decided the contest.

"The rules are the rules, it's unfortunate but you can't charge early," he said.

"But who's to say if they hadn't charged he would have kicked it anyway. You have to accept that, that's the way it goes sometimes."

Captain Richie McCaw saw a year that has seen so many questions thrown at New Zealand end with the All Blacks providing all the answers.

"There have been a lot of different challenges: pretty much all the top teams around the world," said McCaw.

"Being able to deal with those challenges, different injuries, you wrap that up and still produce good performances, then don't perform and still get home.

"Being able to deal with all that, I sit here pretty proud we've been able to do the job under all those circumstances."

Belfast Telegraph


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