Ireland's All Blacks agony continues
November 16, 2008
All Blacks coach Graham Henry congratulates scrum-hal Jimmy Cowan following his side's Croke Park victory © Getty Images
New Zealand rugby coach Graham Henry felt the outcome was determined with only five minutes remaining but in reality Ireland's fate was guaranteed long before fulltime at Croke Park here last night.
Henry was being overly generous to the Irish, who realised the game was up when lock Brad Thorn scored his first test try in five years. It was the All Blacks' third in 13 minutes, and the final scoring act of a comfortable 22-3 victory.
Ireland's players had spoken optimistically about achieving a historic triumph, echoing their Scottish counterparts' misguided self-belief before last weekend's Grand Slam opener at Murrayfield.
But Irish bullishness turned to blarney once the All Blacks were correctly awarded a penalty try in first-half injury time. South African referee Mark Lawrence presented the All Blacks with a seven-pointer after television match official Johan Meuwesen ruled wing Tommy Bowe punched the ball dead as Richie McCaw was poised to force a Ma'a Nonu grubber kick.
Bowe was also sinbinned and his punishment did not end there because he was the helpless defender when Thorn bore down on the tryline after ignoring an overlap in the 53rd minute. Thorn's try built on Nonu's effort six minutes after halftime -- after Tony Woodcock had joined Bowe in the sinbin for punching -- and suddenly the All Blacks' do mination of territory and possession was reflected on the scoreboard.
So, Ireland, who had been within seconds of heading to halftime at 3-3, now risked being dismantled on a similar scale to the last time the All Blacks stormed the Irish capital, a 45-7 drubbing at Lansdowne Road in 2005. But Ireland limited the damage, defending desperately while the All Blacks' finishing was below par, and the officials possibly conspired against them.
Lock Ali Williams' claims for a try were rejected when replays could not confirm he grounded the ball while a trybound Sitiveni Sivivatu was denied by a forward pass.
"We're pleased, the guys dominated the game most of the time," Henry said. "We played with a bit of tempo, but there was frustration there. We had a lot of opportunities we didn't finish and we infringed a lot."
McCaw and opposing captain Brian O'Driscoll identified the penalty try as a turning point although both also acknowledged the All Blacks were already dictating terms. "We were at the right end of the field but we just weren't clicking," McCaw said. "If we'd gone to the break even it might have been a bit tough in the second half so the seven points on halftime was pretty critical."
O'Driscoll, who had hoped to mark his 50th test in charge with Ireland's first test win over New Zealand in 103 years, described the penalty try as a "kick in the teeth" but it was his side's inability to score next that eroded their confidence.
"That 10 minutes after halftime was a pivotal point in the match as well. We had to score next and they were the ones to score. That made it very difficult."
It also raised the prospect of a rout, a scenario the Irish were desperate to avoid before a crowd of 81,214.
"When they scored the third try there was potential for us to capitulate and just allow them to cross the whitewash time and time again but we stood behind the posts and said that wasn't going to happen, not in Croke Park."
While Ireland's stretched defensive screen held up, the All Blacks also muscled up admirably, and are yet to concede a try on the European leg of their tour. Australia, in Hong Kong, and Scotland last week also failed to score a point in the second half, a statistic that gave All Blacks management and players immense satisfaction.
McCaw singled out blindside Jerome Kaino, who pulled off a couple of monstrous tackles in the first half. "When you have guys doing that they (opposition) start to have a wee peek to see if he's around. I guess that builds pressure on them, that's what it felt like in the second half."
Thorn also lauded his teammate's fortitude as they switch focus to Wales in Cardiff next weekend. "I just think there's something about this team, there's some real character in there," he said. "I remember watching (Sean) Fitzpatrick and them in the '90s. They used to win ugly, they'd be three points down and they'd just get that try. It's been a while since I've seen that ... this year it's really come out."