Last-gasp All Blacks break Irish hearts
November 24, 2013
Ryan Crotty goes over for the try which drew the game level
© PA Photos
Ryan Crotty's last-gasp try and Aaron Cruden's conversion was enough to secure an unbeaten year for the All Blacks in the best Test match of 2013.
Crotty's try made the game 22-22 and Cruden fluffed his first attempt at adding the extra two points, only to be handed a dramatic reprieve. Ireland flew off their line before Cruden had started his run-up, referee Nigel Owens ordered a retake and the Kiwi playmaker delivered to spoil an otherwise-impressive Irish performance.
Ireland blitzed a stunned New Zealand with three tries in 17 minutes; Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney crossing in a superlative opening salvo. But the world champions refused to buckle, wing Julian Savea and prop Ben Franks notching tries to turn the tide.
Leading by just five points, Ireland attempted to play out the clock in the final minute - only to concede a cheap ruck penalty. New Zealand launched a trademark quick-flash attack, and after fine work from Kieran Read, Ma'a Nonu and Cruden, Crotty sneaked into the left corner to shatter Irish dreams of a first victory over the All Blacks at the 28th attempt.
Ireland had led the All Blacks 21-7 after 43 minutes in Dublin in 2001: New Zealand won 40-29 that day in Dublin. Agonisingly that pattern was repeated, and now Brian O'Driscoll will never beat the All Blacks.
Paul O'Connell labelled this Ireland's best-ever chance to beat New Zealand in mid-week, and so it proved. The thunderclap of three first-quarter tries shook the All Blacks to their very core.
The grit so lacking from Ireland in 32-15 Australia defeat last week was immediately clear from the off. A stub-grubber from O'Driscoll forced New Zealand into a knock on in their own 22. Dave Kearney cut in off his wing, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien punched tight-drive holes - and half-back Murray pounced to open the scoring.
Leinster's bullocking prop Healy then bust the line again, sending hooker Best through the gap. O'Brien followed suit to find Murray, and Ireland were scenting the whitewash again - more quick ball allowed Best to dummy a pass and wriggle home for the home side's second try.
Try-scorer Best was forced to trudge off with a shoulder injury with less than 15 minutes on the clock though, Sean Cronin joining the fray in his stead. Dogged Ireland sustained the pressure though, and when Israel Dagg failed to hold Cruden's pass, Kearney pounced. None of the New Zealand cover could catch the full-back, who raced clear to register his eighth international score.
Fly-half Aaron Cruden's clever cross-field chip set wing Savea free, and the arch finisher cut home for his third try in two weeks. Undeterred, Ireland pressed on again, and quickly set camp in the All Blacks' 22.
Sexton then slotted a penalty after New Zealand turned in at the scrum, to extend the home lead to 22-7 at the break. New Zealand built consistent pressure after half-time, taking a scrum from a kickable penalty - but Tommy Bowe intercepted Ma'a Nonu's pass to allow brief respite.
Cruden sent a second goal-worthy penalty to the corner for a line-out, only for Devin Toner to produce a first-class steal at the tail. New Zealand wrapped up Ireland's ruck though, winning a scrum in the home 22. Savea came in off his wing to pinch the Irish defence, before full-back Dagg hurtled across the tryline.
English Television Match Official Graham Hughes was called to adjudicate by Welsh referee Nigel Owens. And Hughes chalked it off, much to the visitors' surprise.
New Zealand came again from their five-metre scrum, Murray stripped Ben Smith to give Ireland the steal - only for Toner to be penalised for obstruction. Cruden slotted the goal to cut Ireland's lead to 12, before O'Driscoll was withdrawn through injury, replaced by Luke Fitzgerald.
The Kiwi out-half failed with another penalty strike minutes later though. Read's mistimed tackle took Kearney out in mid-air, gifting Ireland a penalty and chance to clear from their own 22. Sexton's weak clearance and Bowe's missed tackle on Savea handed the initiative straight back to New Zealand though.
Quick hands from Read, a half-break from Ben Smith and New Zealand were within whitewash range again - and a bloodied Ben Franks barrelled over for the All Blacks' second converted try. Ireland's lead cut to five paltry points, New Zealand's stubborn will set up a fraught finale.
Ireland launched another strong maul, forcing a penalty deep in the Kiwis' 22. Sexton could not extend Ireland's lead to eight though, striking wide of the right-hand post. New Zealand inevitably pressed again, but Nonu's loose knock on and Cruden's ill-judged chip let Ireland off the hook.
Ireland failed to drive tight phases to the conclusion, conceding a soft ruck penalty. New Zealand launched one final attack, Read, Ben Smith and Nonu prevalent: before Ryan Crotty nipped home in the left corner. TMO Hughes was brought into play to make the ruling, and after several minutes' discussion the try was awarded.
Cruden failed with the conversion attempt - but Ireland raced off their line before the fly-half started his run-up. Referee Owens gave the All Blacks stand-off another chance for the extra points. He made no mistake second time around, notching New Zealand's place in history, but breaking Irish hearts in the process.
Ireland celebrate Conor Murray's try © Getty Images
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