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5 Times Ireland Came Incredibly Bloody Close To Beating New Zealand

5 Times Ireland Came Incredibly Bloody Close To Beating New Zealand
Gavin Cooney
By Gavin Cooney
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With two November clashes looming, this week marks the time to confront our past, and grimly acknowledge our record against New Zealand.

The name of the ground may have changed, but the torment has remained the same: a 1905 15-0 reversal at Landsdowne and that 24-22 event at the Aviva 2013 bookend a winless run against the All Blacks. Yep, of our 28 meetings, the All-Blacks have won 27 of them. The outlier was a 10-10 draw in 1973.

That all being said, there have been times Ireland almost beat New Zealand. Here are five of such heart-twisting occasions.

1973: Ireland - 10 New Zealand - 10 (Dublin)

1973 marked the zenith of our on-field relations with the All Blacks, in which we not only avoided defeat, but also denied them something in the problem. The All Blacks came to Dublin with something to play for: namely, their version of the Grand Slam, which consisted of victory away to Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland.

Having beaten the former three, victory in Dublin would have given New Zealand their first of these Grand Slams, the '73 tour being their fifth tour of the Northern Hemisphere.

And we only went and bloody denied them, through a last-minute try by Tom Grace. It was our sixth meeting with the All Blacks, and the first time we avoided defeat. And as proof of how different this game is to the rest on this list, it was Ireland who scored in the last minute, after Tom Grace collected his own kick to cross in the corner.

Barry McGann then had the chance to win the game with a conversion on the right-hand touchline, but it drifted narrowly wide. There's wonderful footage below:


Edmund Van Esbeck wrote the following in the Irish Times:

Grace's try was a reward for a spirit of adventure and, quite honestly, there was not much of that revealed by either side in a match that will be remembered for its exciting climax and little else.

He was wrong: it is remembered as our greatest ever result against New Zealand.

That said, it also comes with a caveat. In 1973, a try was worth four points. Ireland's ten-point total consisted of Grace's try along with two McGann penalties. New Zealand, by contrast, scored two tries, converting one of them. They didn't kick any penalties. This means, were the game to be retrospectively updated along the new scoring system, it would have finished 11-12 to New Zealand.



See Also: The Strange IRA Warning Letter Sent To New Zealand Before Ireland Game In 1973

1978: Ireland - 6 New Zealand - 10 (Dublin) 

While '78 is remembered fondly for Munster's remarkable 12-0 defeat of New Zealand, the All Blacks' dominated against the international sides: they picked up the Grand Slam Ireland had denied them in '73. In the Dublin clash, it was the turn of the All Blacks to score the last-minute try.

Tony Ward scored two penalties, with Doug Bruce landing two drop goals to leave the game tied at 6-6 as it entered injury time. With a second draw in six years looking likely, New Zealand then hit on their greatest method of Irish torment: the last-minute try, scored by Andy Dalton.

New Zealand played this game just four days after the Munster defeat, and Andy Haden in the video below espouses the theory that, had they not lost to Munster earlier that week, they may well have lost to Ireland, given that they're not in the business of losing back-to-back games.


These highlights include that last-minute try, and keep an eye on the hooker Dalton, who seemed to obstruct an Irish tackler before receiving the pass to cross over.


It wasn't the last time a New Zealand hooker would cause consternation amongst Irish rugby, and nor was it the last time that the All Blacks would cross the Landsdowne try line in garbage time.


1992: Ireland 21 - New Zealand 24 (Dunedin) 

The most remarkable of our close shaves with the All Blacks. 1992 marked our second tour of New Zealand, the first coming in 1976. To say New Zealand were favourites for both of the two Irish tests would be to put it mildly. Ireland arrived on that tour having lost all of their games in the previous Five Nations, including a 38-9 loss at Twickenham along with an equally chastening 44-12 defeat in Paris.

Despite being rank outsiders, Ireland showed terrific team spirit to take the All Blacks all the way, with centre Vinny Cunningham scoring the first try of the game.

Jim Staples added a second try to leave New Zealand 12-0 down and facing down the barrel of a shock defeat, only for the All Blacks to respond in a way now all too familiar.


They tied the game, only for Cunningham to cross for another try to give us that sweet, tantalising taste of hope. The All Blacks then hit back once again, with centre Frank Bunce scoring a try to ensure a narrow, 24-21 victory.

The Irish Independent described the game as "the Everest of moral victories", and it gave New Zealand a jolt: they hammered us 59-6 in the second test. Here is the pain, via the sadly-defunct ESPN Classic.

2012: Ireland 19 - New Zealand - 22 (Christchurch) 

Another of the times Ireland almost beat New Zealand. Or drew with them at least. A three-test tour began and ended with heavy defeats (42-10 in the first test, then that appalling 60-0 in the third test) but we ran them close in the middle test.

We led 10-9 at half-time, and the second half was equally close, with the game tied at 19-19 going into the final couple of minutes. Dan Carter attempted a drop goal, only to pull it to the right and wide. He had another chance, though, and as the clock hit red, Carter didn't fluff his lines a second time. Unfortunately.


That tour did irreparable damage to Declan Kidney's Ireland reign, despite the close encounter in Christchurch.

 2013: Ireland - 22 New Zealand - 24 (Dublin) 

Hello, darkness, my old friend. You all know it. Joe Schmidt had taken the reigns with a routine victory over Samoa and a hammering against Australia, so morale was pretty low among the Irish camp. New Zealand were pitching up looking to complete a full-year of victories, but we came oh so close to denying them.

Ireland played the first half with a kind of manic intensity, scoring three tries and leading 22-10 at half-time. Ireland were men possessed: you had Rob Kearney giving the mother of all fist-pumps at half-time and Rory Best clearing out rucks with a broken arm. Nigel Owens described the half-time roar as the loudest he has ever heard in Dublin: it was a coming of age for the Aviva as much as anything else.

Sadly, Ireland failed to match those levels after the interval, and failed to score in the second half: Johnny Sexton infamously missed a very kickable penalty to secure victory before the end. His miss left five points between the sides, and when Jack McGrath was penalised in the middle of the field, New Zealand went through the multiple phases of the inevitable: Ryan Crotty joining Andy Dalton in the ranks of the last-minute All Black try in Dublin.

Here are highlights, with necessary sad Coldplay soundtrack to emphasise inherent sadness.

Having failed to close out that game, Ireland proved they learned from the experience in Paris the following March, winning a Six Nations metres from their own line in Paris; somehow keeping Steve Walsh's quivering arm by his side while winning the ball back from a French maul.

Schmidt's Ireland learned a lot from that afternoon in Dublin.

It remains to be seen if they've learned enough to make history this November.

See Also: Two Ulster Players Interviewed By Police Over Alleged Sexual Offences

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