It always felt as though back-to-back wins against New Zealand would be a bridge too far and so it proved. Ireland threw the kitchen sink and then some at the All Blacks but lacked the incision or creativity to cut open the world champions.
In truth New Zealand were in supreme form this evening and Ireland did well to hold them to just the three tries. Lots of positives in a performance from Ireland that smacked off guts and commitment.
You’d have to wonder if Ireland had not lost three key players in Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander, could the end game have been different.
15 Rob Kearney – 6
A knock-on early on and generally running down blind alleys. Bounced off by Julian Savea on the wing. Gave his all in attack but lacked the same incision he had in Chicago.
14 Andrew Trimble – 6.5
Fielded a superb high-ball catch in the first half. Again tasked with marshalling Savea: only slipped off one tackle in the first half. Was also emptied by Brodie Retallick. Made a vital man-and-ball tackle on Dane Coles when Ireland were holding on at 14-6 down.
Solid in defence in the first half and had little part to play in the conceded tries. Came within inches of holding on to a kicked ball into the NZ 22 late on as Ireland searched for a consolation. The feeling lingers that he is still better of use to Ireland in attack at fullback.
12 Robbie Henshaw – n/a
Left the field after just ten minutes following a clash of heads with Sam Cane, before he had any chance to affect the game.
11 Simon Zebo – 7
Ran direct with all possession but was given very little to feed off as NZ fanned out superbly. Fumbled a Healy pass on the hour that would have given Ireland a platform in attack.
Made amends with a tackle and turnover minutes later. Also managed to pull down Dagg and force his pass to go loose which stopped what looked a certain try.
10 Johnny Sexton - 6
Slotted his penalty well early on, and did exceptionally well to get back and attempt to stop Beauden Barrett crossing for his try, but left the field soon after with injury.
9 Conor Murray - 6.5
Aimless kick led directly to NZ’s first try. Also missed a tackle for the second try. Like Kearney, he gave it everything but couldn’t make the same impact.
1 Jack McGrath - 6
Wonderfully led a maul around the 20-minute mark as Ireland tried to regather themselves after the early onslaught. Got himself isolated in attack when Ireland were pressing on 43 minutes and was pinged for holding on. Made way for Healy after one of his quieter afternoons.
2 Rory Best – 6
Was in the trenches for the first half as he attempted to ensure Ireland’s platform at the breakdown. Missed out on taking an offload in attack for Ireland just after half-time but gave another of his incredibly committed and selfless displays.
3 Tadhg Furlong - 7
Got the crowd on their feet with an attack early on as he handed off two ABs on the attack. Added another carry to his CV soon after. Excellent pass in attack just after half-time.
4 Donnacha Ryan - 5.5
Took a ball very flat as Ireland went through a purple patch in the first quarter. Struggled to make an impact against his opposite number Brodie Retallick who was supreme throughout.
5 Devin Toner - 7
Two carries early doors and industrious in the breakdown. Missed a lineout in the first half but other than that was a towering presence in the set-piece. Chipped in with regular contributions in the loose and was an ever present at the breakdown.
6 CJ Stander - 7
Burst through in attack before Ireland’s penalty and only denied a try through being held up short. Had another series of barnstorming runs before leaving the field with concussion. Forced an offload out wide when holding on was the better call.
7 Sean O’Brien - 8
Made an excellent tackle on Kieran Read early doors, which delayed the first ABs try. He was generally Ireland’s go-to man in the loose as expected. Had the tryline open up for him from a lineout offload but knocked-on – did the same against Canada last week. Another stunning break in the second half set off a chain of events that led to Jackson knocking over Ireland’s penalty. Still Ireland’s best player and will only improve as his fitness gets back to peak levels.
8 Jamie Heaslip - 7
Bounced off Kieran Read to attack the ABs 22 and feed O’Brien for what looked a certain try bar for a last-ditch cover tackle. Made a number of superb breaks as he tried to force a line break for Ireland. Pinged for holding on just before the break. His engine faded late on, which is rare for the big No 8.
16 Sean Cronin - 6
Did well to support the Van der Flier break in the closing ten minutes but the game was over at that stage.
17 Cian Healy - 7
Whipped out a sensational pass to Zebo minutes after coming after 60 minutes. Looks like he his returning to his best.
18 Finlay Bealham - n/a
Had little chance to make an impact - unlike last week.
19 Iain Henderson - 6
Came on for Ryan in the second half and gave his all at the breakdown. Made more of a contribution than Ryan in the loose. Pushing for a first-team spot again.
20 Josh van der Flier - 7
Made a crucial turnover after 25 minutes and then carried to contact to win a penalty as NZ infringed at the breakdown. Knocked on from a Murray pass on the edge of a ruck when he should have claimed it: that led to a turnover when Ireland needed a score. Made two important carries after the break. Getting better with every game.
21 Kieran Marmion - n/a
Came on for Zebo with eight minutes to go to slot in on the wing and coped with the position change well.
22 Paddy Jackson - 6
Took his opening place kick well to steady any early nerves. Made some lovely jinking attacks with ball in hand with very little space and kicked a tricky enough penalty to bring Ireland to 14-9. Still does not have the creativity of Sexton, or Ian Madigan for that matter.
23 Garry Ringrose - 7
Baptism of fire as he was called into play for his debut replacing the injured Henshaw. Could have done better in pressuring Barrett for the second try. Made two tackles in as many minutes after the hour including one to stop Barrett in his tracks. Almost got away for the tryline with a late intercept. A really assured Test debut from a player with a big future.