They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, and in the case of Ireland vs. New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night, it certainly didn’t. Ireland, despite competing gamely for large swathes of the game, couldn’t repeat the heroics of Chicago as they were beaten 21-9 by New Zealand in Dublin.
There were nine tries scored at a raucous Soldier Field a fortnight ago, and many predicted a similar loose game tonight. That didn’t transpire though, as New Zealand repelled attack after attack from Ireland within their 22, and when Fekitoa finished off a simply outrageous try ridden with offloading brilliance late in the second half, New Zealand knew they had beaten Ireland.
There was an inescapable sense amongst onlookers that, given what transpired in Chicago a fortnight ago, the All Blacks would be eager to make amends. Any thought to the contrary of this was put right when, after constant early All Blacks pressure, player of the year Beauden Barrett’s cross field kick to Malakai Fekitoa resulted in a try with just three minutes on the clock. An ominous start from New Zealand, and a clear look into their psyche; they’re here to get revenge.
There was an apparent nervousness resonating from the packed Aviva Stadium after New Zealand’s impervious start. It was clear that Ireland were playing an utterly determined side, and when you couple this with their obvious skill and tactical prowess, a potential short night awaited the men in green. However, Ireland are also an accomplished side and even though CJ Stander and subsequently Sean O’Brien were thwarted agonisingly close to the New Zealand line with just 8 minutes gone, the boot of Johnny Sexton meant that Ireland had themselves thwarted what looked like a sensational start by the All Blacks.
Then, from the 9th to 15th minute, a couple of crucial moments went a long way in deciding this absorbing affair. Sam Cane can count himself exceptionally fortunate not to see yellow as he tackled Robbie Henshaw high and with a prominent shoulder – the TMO decided a penalty was sufficient but Robbie Henshaw, a crucial player in Chicago, was forced off injured. Just four minutes later, Barrett sliced through an ineffective Irish defensive line to score New Zealand’s second try of the half. Sexton felt he got himself under the ball to prevent Barrett from grounding but again, the TMO sided with New Zealand and instructed Jaco Peyper to award the try.
Being 11 points down with 25 first-half minutes still remaining against the back-to-back world champions, Ireland had to dig deep, and dig deep they did, though they can count themselves fortunate. First we had an Aaron Smith sin binning for blatantly infringing at the breakdown then the ever-present Beauden Barrett intercepted a loose Irish pass close to the Irish line that resulted in him rampaging home between the posts. However, the TMO ruled that Barrett had knocked the ball on, so no try was awarded – Ireland were very fortunate.
Ireland would go on to convert a penalty before the half concluded, resulting in a half-time score of 14-6 to New Zealand. An eight point gap, but New Zealand was full value for their half-time advantage, whereas Ireland was always on the brink of conceding more.
As the second half got underway, clearly spurned on for their need to improve, Ireland was camped deep in the New Zealand 22. Phase after phase of relentless green pressure ultimately failed to reap any rewards. New Zealand conceded 5 tries and 40 points in Chicago, they weren’t about to repeat that as their defence was anything but porous.
However, despite their defensive resoluteness, try hero Fekitoa was sent to the bin for New Zealand’s second yellow of the match, following a clear high-tackle on Simon Zebo in the 50th minute. There had been many unpunished instances of dubious high tackles committed by New Zealanders throughout the first-half, but on this occasion, Fekitoa was given his marching orders.
Again, though, much like in the first half, Ireland couldn’t take full advantage of their numerical superiority. Try as they might, the All Blacks simply refused to be breached and Ireland had to be content with a Paddy Jackson penalty in the 60th minute to reduce Irish arrears to 14.9.
Robbie Henshaw’s late try in Chicago signalled the end of the All Blacks challenge a fortnight ago, and Fekitoa’s brilliant try done likewise for New Zealand in Dublin this afternoon. In what was clearly the try of the night, New Zealand showcased their superb arsenal of offloading skills to eventually cross the try line and ultimately, secure the match and take a commanding 21-9 lead. As expected, Ireland soldiered on and pushed for scores but was typically halted by the juggernaut that was New Zealand’s defence. Just as they had on myriad of cases, New Zealand thwarted Ireland and with that, they won the game.
So, New Zealand rectified the ills of Chicago. They won a game they simply had to win – but they were made to work for it. Ireland, lacking the attacking ingenuity of Chicago, put it up to the mighty All Blacks and not for a lack of ruthlessness in New Zealand’s 22, could have potentially won.
Ireland’s final game of their Autumn Internationals will take place against Australia on November 26th.