As Andy Farrell has been at pains to make known, this tour is about piling on the pressure to see how Ireland react to rugby’s most challenging environment.
Well, he’s got that now alright. Two games in and it’s the same number of hefty defeats with the prospect of meeting the All Blacks again on Saturday in Dunedin seemingly the stuff of nightmares.
However, before simply buying into a gloom as dark as New Zealand’s winter, it has to be said that a crucial factor to yesterday’s scoreline was that Ireland made a weighty contribution to sealing their own fate.
This squad knows what it takes to beat the All Blacks —though, admittedly, not when it comes to doing that on New Zealand soil — and that knowledge really ought to have empowered them in Auckland yesterday regardless of the home side’s bullet proof record at Eden Park.
After all, this was a New Zealand squad which had lost its last two games — albeit in Europe last November — with an under-pressure coach and a disrupted match week due to Covid issues.
If ever Ireland were going to make a statement as to their own state of mind, then surely this was the moment.
And those wearing the black shirts looked shaken not stirred in the opening 20 minutes of this joust while Ireland were the ones possessing the game smarts to punch holes through the All Blacks’ close-in defence via their dexterity in quick passing and hard carrying.
There was a vulnerability about the All Blacks which suggested that Ireland could maintain control of this game and an apparent naivete which was by no means entirely absent after Jordie Barrett’s 20th-minute score.
Of course, what you must never do is issue an open invitation to any All Blacks side to claim a soft score and this is precisely what Ireland managed to achieve when Garry Ringrose’s ambitious off-load towards James Lowe happened to end up in Sevu Reece’s hands with a lengthy but clear run to the Irish line beckoning the winger.
Jordie Barrett’s conversion put the All Blacks nine ahead and just when Ireland needed calm heads — Johnny Sexton had just left proceedings after colliding with Sam Cane’s knee — we were presented the sight of Jamison Gibson-Park trying to break out of his own ‘22’ only to be turned over and, in a flash, Beauden Barrett’s clip over the top of a rush Irish defence gave Quinn Tupaea the kind of try he might have dreamt about the night before.
Championship moments and all that. Ireland had gift-wrapped 14 points to their opponents and the All Blacks, no matter how shaky they might be, are never going to reciprocate with such generosity.
At this point, the tourists were in freefall with a scrum that looked brittle with Karl Dickson determined that it was Ireland who were the main offenders. Just a minute later and with half-time seemingly offering some solace, Ireland did it once more to effectively extinguish their interest in making this game anything but a home win.
With no guard at a ruck — as basic an error as they come — Aaron Smith darted through to open countryside and when tackled just short, his flick back was gratefully received by Ardie Savea while a scrambling Peter O’Mahony and James Lowe overshot the ball.
And that was it. Game over, game gone. Just micro-moments, but long enough to transform this occasion into something close to an All Black procession which was the very last thing Farrell and co wanted and was such a shame as this was no vintage effort from the hosts.
Arguably the only upbeat note was that Ireland got over the line a grand total of six times in the second half, with only two tries being awarded, but, again, such choreography will never do wherever you play the All Blacks.
How Ireland regather from here is anyone’s guess and, yes, the pressure is well and truly on now as an All Black squad with a sense of momentum is quite another step up when it comes to meeting formidable challenges.