Ireland 22 New Zealand 24: Four talking points
Ireland 22 New Zealand 24: Four talking points as the All Blacks complete 2014 with their 100% record intact
Perfection – but only just. New Zealand achieved their goal of winning every game in the calendar year with Aaron Cruden’s retaken conversion in the 83rd minute. It is the first time in the professional era that a team has achieved this feat, and the All Blacks proved their true class by coming back from 19 points down in the first half and continuing to attack with the ball in their hands throughout the second. Like last season when England defeated New Zealand at Twickenham, Ireland showed today that the All Blacks are not unbeatable, just very, very hard to beat. New Zealand become the only team in the professional era to win every game in a year, as well as only the second team in history to come back from 19 points down to win a Test match.
Agonisingly, Ireland played the near-enough perfect game against their fearsome visitors. Rob Kearney and Tommy Bowe won all their high balls, Devin Toner intercepted at the line-out and the pack won the battle on the ground on more occasions that the Kiwis would have expected. Discipline-wise they were solid, giving away only one penalty in the first half, and not many more in the second. They did not give New Zealand an inch for large portions of the game and made them pay for their mistakes, namely with Kearney’s interception and try from Israel Dagg’s knock-on. They weathered a second-half storm for all 40 minutes, but were undone by one of the best closing passages of rugby anyone has ever seen. Still, there’s always next year.
Ireland rip up the early script
Before the game , ex-England international Brian Moore said that Ireland needed to show New Zealand something they’d not seen before, perhaps a new set-piece or an inventive line out. But Ireland did not need any such trickery as they raced out to a 19-0 lead in a little less than 20 minutes playing route one rugby. For the first two tries, the All Blacks could not seem to contain Ireland running from the ruck. Scrum-half Conor Murray scoring a contentious first try, which could easily have been ruled out for a knock-on as he tried to touch it down. Four minutes later, front-rowers Cian Healy and Rory Best both made surging runs from the ruck, with Best’s effort being enough for the second try. WIth experienced heads like Richie McCaw and Sam Whitelock in and around the New Zealand ruck, it is surprising to see them being gutted up the middle by the Ireland forwards.
The early scoreline could have suggested that the All Blacks were struggling without their star Number 10 Dan Carter, but in reality his replacement Aaron Cruden had a good game. He was instrumental in their first try with his kick through to Julian Savea was perfect off his unfavoured left foot. Ireland only gave away one penalty in the first half which was not in a kickable position, so he could not have brought his side any closer. In the second, he converted Ben Franks’ 65th-minute try and missed a long-range penalty. His shining moment came in the 83rd minute, however, when he re-took his last-gasp conversion attempt to give New Zealand the win. After slicing his first attempt left,, he was offered a second bite following an Ireland infringement. He made the necessary adjustments and knocked his second attempt between the posts for the win. With Dan Carter planning on taking a few games off next season to keep himself fresh for the 2015 World Cup, Cruden’s performance will assure the All Blacks’ faithful following that his presence will not weaken the team.