Composure sees ABS snatch a win
After a two-year absence of All Black tests, Christchurch finally saw international rugby at its best on Saturday night.
Despite freezing temperatures the sold-out stadium held more than 21,000 hardy souls.
The All Blacks had much the same line- up as last week. The , the only exception was Adam Thomson replacing the injured Victor Vito on the blindside flank.
The Irish were boosted by the return of two veteran players, prop Mike Ross back into the front row and second-five Gordon D’Arcy resuming his partnership with Brian O’Driscoll in the mid-field.
The Irish dominated early territory and possession, and shocked the All Blacks with hard running and quick ball distribution from the ruck.
After a strong Irish rolling maul collapsed, halfback Conor Murray spied a gap and darted in for the opening try, converted by first-five Johnny Sexton.
The Irish supporters were vocal in their jubilation but was this the result of the rugby or the Guinness?
Either way, they were having a great time as large areas of green stood out from the sea of black.
A few minutes later, Johnny Sexton kicked a penalty making the score 10- 0. Suddenly the All Blacks were looking frail.
But they responded with three Dan Carter penalties throughout the rest of the half.
Halftime and it was 10 - 9 to the Celts.
Stern words must have been spoken during the break because the All Blacks returned to the field with steely looks in their eyes.
Shortly after the break, Aaron Smith managed to dot down for the try which gave New Zealand the lead for the first time in the game.
For the next 10 to 15 minutes the game was titfor- tat with neither side gaining ascendancy.
Sexton kicked a penalty making it 16 - 13 to New Zealand.
A big turning point came when Owen Franks was replaced by brother Ben in the front row.
The Irish scrum started to dominate, shunting Ben backwards on occasions, remaining in the ascen- dancy game.
Another Carter penalty took the score to 19 - 13. Sexton replied with another penalty: 19 - 16.
With the Irish hot on attack in the middle of our 22, Ben Franks came from an off- side position and kicked the ball away from the Irish maul, right in front of the posts, allowing Ireland to tie up the game.
The next big moment in the game was when Israel Dagg kicked the ball to the opposing fullback, followed through and charged late into the fullback, after the ball had been kicked.
It was an incredibly stupid time to do this with only eight minutes left and being reduced to 14 men after the yellow card.
Watching Johnny Sexton set up for the kick, I thought: ‘‘This is a young player’s chance to make history and forever be remembered as a national hero’’.
But the kick sailed past the posts instead of through them.
It was a very testing kick in the conditions.
The Irish had a scrum inside the All Black’s half, and referee Nigel Owens ruled that Ireland had
the deliberately wheeled the scrum around giving New Zealand a penalty.
From there, Carter kicked down-field for the lineout, which the ABs won.
They moved towards the posts for the drop goal attempt.
Carter’s first attempt wasn’t so good but luckily it came off an Irish hand, meaning we had a 5m scrum and another chance.
After a couple of pick and goes, Carter dropped back into the pocket, Weepu sent the ball to him and this time he calmly slotted the drop goal.
The All Blacks were very relieved to keep their 100-year unbeaten record against the men from the Emerald Isle.
I felt that Ireland had played the better rugby and at least deserved a draw.
It was clear by the disappointment on Brian O’Driscoll’s face how devastated they were.
They had come so close to their first victory.
Ireland has to take this disappointment and use it as motivation for this coming Saturday’s game in Hamilton.
One of the positives for the All Blacks was the way they managed to grind their way to a hard-fought victory, never panicking.
They just focused on getting into a position from where the game could be won.
Congratulations to Sam Cane on making his test debut, coincidentally at the same age and against the same opponents as one Richard H McCaw in 2001.