Kiwis' belief quashes Ireland's fear factor
November 24, 2013
Ma'a Nonu gives Brian O'Driscoll some attention © PA Photos
League or union, it seems New Zealand's rugby teams never know when they are beaten. At Wembley on Saturday, Shaun Johnson's last minute try and conversion snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and took them through to the final of the Rugby League World Cup at the expense of England. Two hundred and eighty miles away on Sunday, Ryan Crotty's try in added time and Aaron Cruden's conversion broke Irish hearts and secured an unbeaten year for the All Blacks. Two slices of history both secured in a Lazarus-esque fashion.
When the full-time whistle blew in Dublin, those standing or sitting on the turf personified the two sides of rugby, jubilation and despair. Ireland distraught, All Blacks relieved. For the Kiwis, frowns broke into smiles; grit and determination on the faces of the Irish disintegrated into cold realisation of what had escaped them.
They have never beaten the Kiwis; Brian O'Driscoll, who was forced off with concussion, will never get another shot. At the full-time whistle he cut an isolated figure as he walked, head bowed, into the tunnel in Dublin.
The build-up to the game saw the buzzword of 'fear' constantly mentioned; the fear factor, the driving impetus behind Ireland's performance today. For the majority of the first-half, the Kiwis were never in the game. Jamie Heaslip stood warrior-like at the back of the Irish scrum, he made 25 tackles in total. Sean O'Brien was running around like a man possessed, hitting the breakdown with a ferocity seldom experienced by the Kiwis.
Ireland deserved their three tries. They were playing with an accuracy not seen since their pool stage win over Australia in the 2011 World Cup. The choke tackle was stifling All Blacks' quick ball and forcing them into handling errors. The Kiwi's offloading game was conspicuous in its absence.
It was a performance of primal instinct from Ireland, sheer bloody-mindedness.
But then half-time came around. Julian Savea's try before the break gave New Zealand a foothold, Ben Franks' in the 64th minute took them within five-points. And that's when their belief kicks in. The New Zealanders now seem to have their own brand of 'Fergie time'.
Beauden Barrett's introduction in the 65th minute added fresh impetus to the Kiwis' charge. Aaron Cruden did not have his finest game in an All Blacks jersey but Aaron Smith's quick ball coupled with Barrett's helped put New Zealand on the front foot. But had Jonathan Sexton struck his penalty with five minutes left, Ireland would have won the game. It is small margins like that which can decide a game.
In 1973, Barry McGann missed a late kick to hand Ireland their first win over the All Blacks. This time it was Sexton's turn. Despite Ireland being on New Zealand's 10-metre line in the final minute, what followed will now be mentioned in years to come by those who have affection for the silver fern. Crotty's try came after concerted pressure and an ability from the Kiwis to stay calm even in a do-or-die scenario. Irish supporters may lament Nigel Owens' decision to give Cruden a second bite at the cherry with the final kick of the game, but it was the correct call.
Ireland will learn from this game. As bad as they were against Australia, they were good against the All Blacks but talk of valiant defeats will be little consolation for Joe Schmidt's men. For New Zealand, they are the world's dominant side and they showed exactly why in the 81st minute and 24th second against Ireland.
Brian O'Driscoll is applauded from the field © PA Photos
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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