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Our Rugby Nerds Dissect Yesterday's Heartbreak

Our Rugby Nerds Dissect Yesterday's Heartbreak
Rugby Nerds
By Rugby Nerds
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Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Rugby nerd Ronan Murphy on just how good New Zealand were yesterday.

They were 30 seconds away from the end of a season that started in February and 11,000 miles away from home. They were on their own 10 metre line and they didn't even have the ball. And the All Blacks still weren't beaten. Those are the standards.

New Zealand wouldn't have lost that game from the position that Ireland were in. And New Zealand are probably the only team in the world that could win a game from the position that they were in. They are that good. And Ireland outplayed them on the day.

Ireland were magnificent to a man. You have to be to lead the All Blacks all the way into the 82nd minute. They threw everything they had at it and almost got it just right. Almost. For the second time in 18 months Ireland were within seconds of getting a result against New Zealand and still came up empty-handed.

Ireland were intense, physical and accurate. The challenge now is to replicate that performance and avoid falling back into the familiar cycle of peaks and troughs. Roll on the Six Nations.

It was a great and terrible day to be an Irish rugby supporter. We'll be waiting a long time to see a better a game of rugby. Hopefully we won't have wait too long for a better result.


Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Paddy Logan relives the main talking points; from sky-rocketing excitement to the depths of devastation.  

Gutted – absolutely, totally and utterly gutted.  It’s a feeling we know all too well – 1991 versus the Aussies and Christchurch 2012 rolled into one.


Clearly this was a stunning and hugely surprising turnaround by the Irish. There were outstanding performances all over the park, not the least from Sean O’Brien, but I cannot help but think this is one that Ireland left behind. Yes, New Zealand confirmed their champion status by overhauling a 19 point deficit but in the last five minutes, Ireland missed a kickable penalty, were unable to manufacture an opportunity to take a drop at goal and then turned the ball over when all they need was a couple more phases to secure the win. When Nigel Owens, who had another fine game, pinged Jack McGrath for going off his feet, it was almost inevitable that the bloody All Blacks would score despite Aaron Smith being 60m out when he took the tap.

The first half was arguably the finest ever by an Ireland XV with only the equivalent period at Cardiff earlier this year coming close, and that was against a Welsh side that was half-asleep. Against a back-row containing one of the world’s best ever and the shoe-in for player of the year, as well as the freak of nature that is Steve Luatua, Ireland were dominant in the first 20. They were accurate and brutal, and were great value for their 14 point lead after 11 minutes. Heaslip and O’Mahoney were excellent but O’Brien was ludicrously good. Anyone doing player ratings who doesn’t give him a 10 deserves to be pilloried. He was everywhere, securing turnovers, smashing into New Zealanders, carrying with pace and aggression and off-loading with deftness and accuracy. He played Read and McCaw off the park, which is extraordinary.

The Irish scrum also had the upper hand and it was from one that Ireland scored their first try. Dave Kearney, who more than justified his selection, cut a line off Jonny’s inside shoulder. From there, carries from the Healy, Toner Heaslip and O’Mahoney took play to the other side of the pitch and within 5 yards of the All Black line. Murray picked from the base and bundled over for a try. It was accurate, aggressive and high tempo stuff. Magnificent and pure Schmidt.


Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

The second try, which came 5 minutes later, was even better. From an Irish lineout, Heaslip carried well in midfield, before Healy broke and off-loaded to Best. From the subsequent ruck, SOB spotted that there was no one at home and broke up the middle, off-loading to Murray. A couple of phases later, including carries by Heaslip and SOB again, Best cut inside to go over for the score.  It was stunning stuff and Ireland led by 14 after just 11 minutes.

Unfortunately, Best was off shortly thereafter, having fractured his radius attempting to strip the ball from Luatua. It was enormously disappointing as he had been magnificent in the opening quarter of an hour, securing a turnover, scoring a try and hooking the ball sweetly at scrum time. He was replaced by Sean Cronin who, as always, was very lively around the park but much less assured at the basics of hooking. As an Ulsterman, I hope Rory can recover in time for the last two rounds of the Heineken Cup.


If we were surprised by the first 11 minutes, then when Rob Kearney collected Dagg’s knock on and out-sprinted Kieran Read over 70m to the corner, we were totally discombobulated. Such was the level of disbelief and surrealism that 10 minutes later, even George Hook was tweeting about the best 30 minutes of rugby in Irish history.


The way Ireland were bullying the All Blacks was barely believable and we knew it couldn’t last.  And so it couldn’t when, despite some superb defence, the excellent Ben Smith broke into the Irish 22 and in the next phase, Cruden put in a clever chip for Savea to run in and score. But Ireland were still on top and quickly went down the pitch where some excellent carrying resulted in a straightforward penalty which Sexton converted to leave it 22-7 at half-time.

It was a truly magnificent half of rugby during which Ireland conceded only one penalty (Paul O’Connell for not retreating 10m after a kick and even that was debatable). The rugby world was in a state of shock and everyone of an Irish persuasion was praying that the lads could hold on for an historic win.


In the second half, Ireland’s defence remained solid, restricting New Zealand to a solitary penalty in the third quarter despite plenty of possession. However, it was clear that New Zealand were getting back into it and, inevitably, Ben Franks went over from close range in the 62nd minute.

Now there was only one score in it and the tension was unbearable. Understandably, the Irish were struggling to maintain the intensity that they had delivered in the first half but their defence remained strong and they continued to force an uncharacteristically high number of errors from the All-Blacks. Then, in the 74th minute, another excellent Irish maul was hauled down by the All Blacks within 5m of the line and Sexton was left with a relatively straightforward kick, 15m in from the right-hand touchline which was, to all intents and purposes, for the match. He struck it sweetly but it stayed just outside the right-hand upright and that ‘here we go again’ feeling started to nag.

Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

That was Sexton’s last contribution as Madigan replaced him immediately thereafter. Clearly not 100%, he was remarkably good for someone who had hobbled from the pitch a week ago.  Ireland spent most of the last five minutes in the All Blacks’ half but were unable to penetrate the 22 and the world champions somehow summoned up the energy to smash each Irish attacker. There was no lack of effort as the excellent McLaughlin, Fitzpatrick and O’Connell all carried strongly but were unable to get into a position where someone could take a drop at goal. Nor could they get the All Blacks to transgress.

Then, with only 30 seconds on the clock and two more phases between Ireland and the history books, Nigel Owens pinged Jack McGrath for going off his feet at the ruck. It wasn’t an outrageous call but somewhat ironic from the man that oversaw Munster’s five minutes of sealing off that led to ROG’s miracle drop goal against Northampton. New Zealand, as is their wont then went down the field and after three minutes, Ryan Crotty was going over in the left-hand corner. Although the officials weren’t sure, everyone else was and the scores were tied with a medium tariff conversion to follow.  Cruden missed to the right, but Ireland were adjudged to have charged early in response to the New Zealander’s idiosyncratic style, which had already led to a false start after Franks’ try. Dan Carter’s more than adequate replacement wasn’t going to miss again and the All Blacks perfect season was sealed in the 84th minute.

The Irish nation was stunned and Ulster, Munster and Leinster fans got to know what it feels like to be a Connacht fan. A heroic performance and a near miraculous turnaround but, ultimately, the results page will show an L when it should be a W.

On a positive note, from one to 15, Ireland were excellent and fully justified Schmidt’s selection. At last, Ireland played to their potential. I’ve already eulogised over SOB, who was head and shoulders above anyone else and left two truly world class All Black breakaways trailing in his wake. But special mention should also go to Healy, Heaslip, Murray and Rob Kearney who were superb. Kearney in particular enjoyed his best game in ages.

The bench was strong, although outplayed by their Kiwi counterparts for whom Ben Franks and Beauden Barritt were particularly good. Kevin McLaughlin carried superbly when he came on and there cannot be much to choose between him and O’Mahoney. The two Fitz’s were also particularly lively in their cameos and it was particularly satisfying to see Luke doing so well in a green shirt. Even the previously ordinary McCarthy looked back to his best.

The good news is that if Ireland can play anywhere near that level during the 6N then we can do well. Let’s hope that the Irish can bottle whatever it was that led to their remarkable turnaround and reprise it in the spring.

This match will quickly become part of Irish rugby folklore, and rightly so. It was magnificent sport and the Irish lads gave their all and we can ask no more. But the feeling of disappointment that they were not rewarded for their heroic endeavours will last for a long, long time.


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