Poking the bear
June 23, 2012
New Zealand's Aaron Cruden offloads in a tackle during an eye-catching 23 minute cameo © Getty Images
We should have known better. New Zealand never fail to deliver two games in a row and any hopes of another heroic performance from Ireland were blown away by an All Blacks side clearly determined to reassert their dominance.
Ireland were a shadow of that side that came so close to an historic first victory over New Zealand but you sense even in top form they would have struggled to live with the All Blacks in this kind of mood. They hosts failed to hit their straps in Christchurch where a first defeat to the Irish would have been of seismic proportions.
Unsurprisingly we witnessed a record-breaking backlash that came despite head coach Steve Hansen making six changes - such is their enviable strength in depth. The most significant of those was the introduction of Aaron Cruden at fly-half in the place of the injured Dan Carter. Not so long ago the enforced absence of their first-choice playmaker was enough to put the whole nation on edge but not now.
Cruden's classy cameo, before succumbing to injury himself, set the tone for this one-sided affair with the Chiefs' fly-half relishing the chance to underline his strong Super Rugby form in front of his home crowd. But he had to share the plaudits with Chiefs team-mate Sonny Bill Williams who produced arguably his best rugby in All Blacks colours. But they, and wingers Hosea Gear and Ben Smith, owe a debt of gratitude to their pack that was relentless in their quest to dismiss widespread reports that they were bullied by the Irish last time out. At the heart of that effort was Richie McCaw whose pursuit of excellence and hunger for success shows no signs of abating.
This was McCaw's100th Test start - a career milestone that leaves the mark of England's Jason Leonard (104) and the record held by South Africa's Victor Matfield (105) well within his grasp. But more significantly this was his 94th Test victory - a result that sees him eclipse the record previously held by Wallabies legend George Gregan. His winning percentage may not match that of his team-mate Conrad Smith but the influential centre has little chance of joining McCaw in the Test centurions club.
McCaw's career offers the perfect blueprint for rising star Sam Cane who celebrated his first Test start with outstanding display that included two tries. It was not exactly a passing of the torch as McCaw, who moved from his usual openside berth to No.8 to accommodate his younger cohort, has plenty of miles left on the clock but this game will at least serve as reminder that New Zealand's rich history of world-class No.7s looks set to continue.
Ireland's performance failed miserably to hit such spectacular heights. The likes of prop Mike Ross offered only glimpses of the grit and determination that rocked the All Blacks last time out. Tackles were missed time and time against as New Zealand peppered a visibly weary Ireland defence and that workload soon took its toll. Put simply, this was a game too far for Declan Kidney's charges.
The likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney may have lit up the European rugby stage over the last few months but were largely ineffective on a forgettable night for Irish rugby. Ireland's biggest ever defeat at the hands of the All Blacks may serve as impetus for them to raise their game again come the new northern hemisphere season which may yet reap rich dividends for Ireland and the British & Irish Lions. But right now they must accept they are second best - by some way - and that a victory over the All Blacks machine remains as remote as ever.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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