Richie McCaw’s big-hearted All Blacks doused a spirited Irish challenge and then showed flashes of their class to snare the second leg of their Grand Slam quest in an absorbing test here at Croke Park.
Their three-try 22-3 win came on the back of last week’s victory over Scotland and leaves them facing Wales and England over the next two weekends to complete their dream.
Duncan Johnstone writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that the recent history of results against Ireland has seen close wins to the All Blacks. For a large chunk of this match that was the case again as the Irish put up some brutal defence.
But New Zealand scored either side of halftime with vital strikes – one of them a controversial penalty try – and then grabbed control of the second spell to clear out. Their unbeaten record against Ireland now stretches to 22 tests over 103 years.
This was no cakewalk though. Spurred on by a crowd of 81,214 at their inspiring Croke Park stadium, the Irish produced their expected passion and determination.
But that was never going to be enough against the skills of the All Blacks that slowly emerged.
The All Blacks lived off their lineouts and breakdown work to dominate possession and territory although these advantages weren’t always maximised as some sloppy moments plagued them again.
But there was plenty to admire about the heart and soul of this All Blacks’ effort. They were characteristics coach Graham Henry had identified as being vital and his players responded. This was a grind at times but there were some moments of brilliance as well.
And for the second week in a row, the All Blacks defensive line kept the opposition tryless.
New Zealand went to short lineouts from the start – and to good effect. From these they often used Brad Thorn as a battering ram in the middle of the backline.
The noise was so loud from the massive crowd that the All Blacks had to go into huddles to sort out their lineout calls.
Thorn had a monumental game that included an outstanding try. His locking partner Ali Williams and hooker Keven Mealamu were at his shoulder in the surges from the trenches.
The loose forwards managed to get their share of ball in a match that was dominated by fierce defence and subsequent breakdowns.
From there the backs gradually grabbed control of their contest out wide.
Wayne Smith had specifically asked for a huge effort from his back three and he got that. Fullback Mils Muliaina was clearly fired up on his return to action and he had good support from his wings Sitiveni Sivivatu and Joe Rokocoko.
New Zealand were guilty of turning over far too much ball in the first half under pressure from the Irish tacklers.
But the Irish were guilty of as many errors as the All Blacks defence proved just as spirited.
And with that pressure even some of the Irish mainstays crumbled. Ronan O’Gara’s poor record against the All Blacks continued, never being able to take control of things. Apart from a couple of touches celebrated Irish skipper Brian O’Driscoll, in his 50th test in charge of the men in green, was ineffective.
The same could be said of lock Paul O’Connell whose reputation was left in the shadow of the All Blacks second row.
There was an energetic opening from both teams, the All Blacks’ attacks met by some strong Irish defence. Carter missed an early penalty attempt from a relatively handy position.
It took Ireland 14 minutes to set up their first attack in the New Zealand half. They pushed on to the 22 but made no further headway.
The two teams continued to batter each other. Carter missed another penalty, this time from in front, at the end of the first quarter as the All Blacks failed to make use of their territorial advantage.
Carter eventually got them under way in the 26th minute when he goaled from 20m.
South African referee Mark Lawrence was under pressure to keep a lid on things at times. On a ruling from one of his touch judges he penalised Sivivatu for a high tackle but then took no action when Irish flanker Alan O’Quinlan stomped on Rodney So’oialo.
Lawrence stuck with his original penalty for the All Blacks diving into the breakdown and O’Gara goaled from 50m as the intensity of this battle kept rising.
The All Blacks finally put a couple of good waves of attack together, sweeping downfield from one side to the other.
Ma’a Nonu chipped to the corner where Richie McCaw was diving for the ball to score, only to have it flicked out of his grasp and deliberately into touch ingoal by Irish winger Tommy Bowe. Lawrence went upstairs for assistance and New Zealand got a crucial penalty try right on the stroke of halftime. Carter’s conversion gave them a 10-3 lead at the break with Bowe sent to the bin as well.
The team numbers were evened right after the restart when All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock was binned for punching Irish hooker Rory Best.
That fired the All Blacks up with Carter breaking through the middle and feeding Ali Williams who took four defenders with him to the line, only to be held up trying to force the ball down.
But they struck gold soon after when Rokocoko sliced through the scattered Irish defence and fed Nonu for the charge to the posts. Finally the All Blacks had some genuine breathing space at 17-3 after 48 minutes.
The black wave threatened to turn into a flood when Thorn, ranging out wide again, simply powered through the Irish centres to score close to the left hand corner.
The All Blacks went close a couple more times but couldn’t add to their score in what was a flat final few minutes.
But the Grand Slam is on and now the midweek team are tasked with reversing Munster’s win over the All Blacks 30 years agao with what should be a an equally spirited occasion in Limerick.
Ireland 3: Ronan O’Gara pen.
New Zealand 22: Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn tries; penalty try; Dan Carter pen 2 cons.Tweet