New Zealand withstood a second-half onslaught from Ireland to grind out a 21-9 victory at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
It was always going to be a tough ask to beat the All Blacks twice in three weekends and even though they couldn’t pull it off, Ireland should still feel pleased with their performance against the world champions.
The visitors had the better first-half, but Ireland came back strongly in the second. Unfortunately for them, this New Zealand victory was built on an incredible defensive effort.
All eyes were on New Zealand to see how they would respond to their first ever loss to Ireland two weeks ago in Chicago. They didn’t wait long to make their intentions known.
It was another inspired, committed performance from the Irish, but this time they couldn’t find the space and create the scoring opportunities that were so evident two weeks ago in Chicago.
The possession and territory stats were pretty even in the first 40, but New Zealand were again guilty of conceding too many penalties – eight alone in the first half. Ireland, on the other hand, conceded only four in the entire game.
What makes New Zealand’s victory even more impressive is the fact that they were twice reduced to 14 men and still managed not to concede a try.
The hosts were ravaged by injuries in the first-half, losing Johnny Sexton, CJ Stander and Robbie Henshaw throughout the first 40 minutes.
The visitors came out firing from the kick-off and made a statement of intent when Malakai Fekitoa scored in the corner after collecting a cross-kick from Beauden Barrett, who had an outstanding game.
The try was the result of 13 phases, but the Irish didn’t wait long to get on the scoreboard too. Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien were brilliant for Ireland and their sniping runs around the fringes. Twice Ireland went over the line and twice they were held up, and after Aaron Smith was shown yellow for another breakdown infringement Sexton slotted a penalty to get the hosts on the scoreboard.
What happened next you don’t often see at the highest level, but Barrett scored New Zealand’s second try directly from first phase. A scrum just outside Ireland’s 22 resulted in Barrett getting the ball at first receiver to run through a gap and score.
It was way too easy and with the conversion it gave the All Blacks the cushion they needed to ease the pressure and keep Ireland at bay.
Paddy Jackson added another three points for Ireland after a relentless attack on the All Blacks line resulted in only a penalty, despite them having been reduced to 14 men.
Ireland came out guns blazing in the second-half, but unlike two weeks ago they struggled to convert their increasing possession and territory into points.
New Zealand were forced to make 166 tackles in the game and was successful with 144 of them, compared to Ireland’s 76.
That defensive effort was again tested when Fekitoa was sin-binned for a high tackle. Yet Ireland couldn’t make their numerical advantage count and it was during this period the game was essentially won for the Kiwis, their defence once again proving too strong to Ireland’s onslaught.
Jackson added another penalty to reduce the deficit to just five. But when Fekitoa went over for his second after some slick interplay by the backs it sealed the result.
Pens: Sexton, Jackson 2
For New Zealand:
Tries: Fekitoa 2, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 3
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Garry Ringrose
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Waisake Naholo
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)