One of the most anticipated rugby test re-matches for some time was played out in Dublin today. It was certainly memorable, as the Ireland v New Zealand game captured the rugby world’s attention. In the end, the All Blacks reversed the result from Chicago, 9-21.

Well worth the wait, the second match was a better result for the World Champions but Ireland can still stand tall. Unable to score tries in this match (unlike Chicago) they dominated long periods of the game. They won the breakdown for sure. New Zealand unable to gain mush parity in that area, but the visitors defense proved too good in the end.

Rory Best can look back at a game that may have been theirs to win. His men all played with heart and soul, but the All Blacks came out the winners by through their enterprise and ability to convert.

Irish hearts
Ireland regroup following the international rugby match between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

“Ultimately, we look at ourselves and we have to make the bounce of the ball go our way. We have to make those decisions and we didn’t just show it for enough today, which is disappointing,” Best said after the game. While they did not come out victors, Ireland did nothing to let themselves down in general–and will be a force in the upcoming Six Nations.

Ireland v New Zealand: A Re-match Worth Waiting For

Ireland 9 – Sexton (1) Penalty; Jackson (2) Pen.

New Zealand 21 – Fekitoa (2), Barrett (1) tries; Barrett (3) Conversions.

The scene at Aviva Stadium was one of high anticipation. The pre-match build-up only further hyped the opportunity for Ireland to gain their first ever victory on home soil. By the time that players were readied for the national anthems, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

Ka Mate was chosen as the Haka [challenge] from the visiting All Blacks, and the performance enthralled Irish fans. It showed how important the team from New Zealand (NZ) took this match. Stung by the loss two weeks earlier, a big crowd had savored over this re-match. Hoping to see two highly skilled teams perform, they were not to be disappointed.

It began at pace. An extended opening passage of play lasted three minutes plus. There was a black-wave heading directly toward  the green zone, as the All Blacks used all their might to great affect. It was an impeccable attacking display from the visitors and Ireland yielded under the waves of attack. Beauden Barrett used a flat kick out wide to a waiting Malakai Fekitoa, who sidestep the defense and reached out to score. A try inside four minutes was the perfect start wanted.

Immediate impact from the All Blacks

Not everything went the visitors way. Aaron Smith let a lineout ball bounce, and Sean O’Brien made a big run toward the line and appeared to be on target. That was until a strong Barrett cover tackle held him up over the line. A five meter scrum nearly resulted in C J Stander going over the tryline, but that too was held up. An offside infringement resulted in the opening penalty for Johnny Sexton.

Shortly after Robbie Henshaw spun to avoid a tackler, and as Sam Cane went in for the tackle, he smacked straight into the Irish midfielder. The tackle was judged illegal* but there a ‘sickening clash of heads’ which saw Gary Ringrose replacing the number 12. Henshaw was escorted off the field, giving the thumbs up to concerned fans. The Irish used the ball in hand, and also kicked to put pressure on the NZ back three.

A kicking dual ended with Julian Savea feeding Barrett, who chose a small, perfectly weighted chip kick. The ball bounced up for Barrett, and he tried to feed Israel Dagg. An Irish hand stopped that pass, but from the scrum, a sensational set-move allowed the speed of Barrett to show once again. He sped through the gap, a beautifully executed move and with 14 points after 14 minutes, it seemed to indicate an attacking game to follow.

Ireland dominate in the breakdown

The returning Aaron Smith had a question mark over him. After a sideline kick, a maul was formed and after several penalties earlier, Smith was handed a yellow card. Quite a big moment, it saw Ben Smith assume the role for ten mins. Soon after this, Sam Cane had to leave the field with an ankle injury, meant fans saw Ardie Savea enter the match early.

14 men against a fully motivated Irish team, the men in black had to tackle with venom. Ireland used good width, recycling the ball very very well. When Stander barged through Fekitoa, a Dagg secondary tackle landed directly on top of his head–he felt that, and left for a concussion test [which he did not return from].

Josh Van der Flier was brought on, and over the game had a tremendous impact. Best was having a super game, as was Jamie Heslip. Each was punishing when given any opportunity at the ruck, Sean O’Brien was terrorizing the All Black pack all day.

NZ offside play at the scrum breakdown gave Ireland another penalty, where the Irish team chose to secure three points. 14-6 wasn’t the full reward they might have liked when Smith was in the bin, but it presented them with a potential kick-off return.

Brodie Retallick shows his complete game

Returning from injury, Retallick (main picture) showed his aerial skill tonight, as well as his all round tackling and offloading. He and Sam Whitelock both showed their worth–and it was needed.  Ireland pushed over the ball often today, and the confidence shown in their offensive-defense was superb.

It was the type of game where a yellow card can ruin good work done from men like Retallick and Barrett. Beauden was a constant for the team, even rushing up on defense. At one time he very nearly intercepted the ball but it went forward. Judged the World Player of the Year, he was playing with all the talent he holds.

Retallick made several tackles that halted Ireland attacks. As did Liam Squire, Ben Smith and Anton Lienert-Brown. After 30 minutes, the All Black pressure was being used in the scrum and a stronger lineout was evident. Ardie Savea was doing his best to steal his percentage of ball, his strength was clear and even though the coaches ask him to put on more bulk, he proved his value today.

Passing now to space, the All Blacks unit moved the ball up-field well. Side to side, but even with that movement, the inability to secure the breakdown was their Achilles heal. Ireland drove over the ball repeatedly, and if they were able to convert those chances the score at halftime may have been closer.

Ireland v New Zealand Halftime Score: 9-14

Ahead on board, assistant coach Ian Foster commented to Sky Sports that his side were ‘frustrated’. He believed they let the Irish off the hook too often. His side needed a few more set pieces to make the opposition pay the price. Asked what his side needed to do to prevail;

“Just carrying hard and keeping things simple”.

Ireland opened the first half in a similar vein to what the All Blacks had. A long period of unbroken play, they bombarded the ‘black zone’. With good use of the ball, they pushed the visitors until a turnover conceded possession. It would be evident that they wanted to come out firing, and the next 40 minutes was riveting.

It was an occasion, and as the crowd began to sing, it was a wonderful example of the emotion involved. It spilled over to the players too. No question it helps, but an 80 minute game needs the players on the field to deliver for the whole match.

With Savea tackling like a demon (in place of Cane) the All Blacks were backing their defense to hold out the men in green. Immense territorial advantage began to takes its toll though. A clever wide kick gave Andrew Trimble an opportunity. The wing was under-utilized, with Simon Zebo preferred as the attacking weapon.

Second Yellow Card gives Ireland heart

Soon enough, Ireland were given a huge advantage when first half tryscorer Fekitoa, turned anti-hero. He was tackling as much as anyone, but when he reached out in the 49th minute and grabbed Zebo far too high*, it almost turned the game. A second yellow card infringement; yes the tackling had to be made–but must be legal.

Under more pressure, it needed a steady defense and to take advantage of any opportunity. Dane Coles and Lieran Read combined from a short lineout to break up the field. The ball was not released though, in fact ending up in Irish possession. That was a great example of the menace the All Blacks had trouble executing tonight.

Dagg then seemed to hand the Irish a golden opportunity, when he was unable to collect a kick. Real pressure, it was only released by Savea again stealing a turnover and saving the moment. Those small pieces of play helped the visitors often ‘get out of jail’.

Substitutes make an impact after 60 minutes

Aaron Cruden and TJ Perenara were injected once Fekitoa had returned to the field. Now back to 15 men, the coaches would have been relieved only six points had been relinquished in the timeframe. Now the third quarter push could begin. With better possession now, using the width of field, it would be on the outside where men like Dagg showed some enthusiasm.

At 9-14 it was still too close for comfort. Entering the Irish 22 meter area, they needed to convert their chance. After 64 mins, the moment was presented. As occurs so often, Perenara was the ideal sub. A great passage of inter-passing led to him feeding the ball to the ‘beleaguered’ Fekitoa, who darted over for his second try–in a way, repaying his team mates for the yellow card.

Barrett converted his teams third try, to bring the scores up to 9-21, and it was ‘just what the doctor ordered’. Entering the key period of the match, Ireland were still able to steal ball off the All Blacks. That area of the game was a deficiency NZ had to work on, but Ireland were less able to convert. Van de Flier made a wonderful break [one of the best for Ireland], but the NZ tackles were being made to stop those offensive plays short every time.

Barrett was as good at fullback, as he was at first-five, to reinforce his value to the side. Voted ‘man of the match’ the effective tackling was eating up precious time. A true test match, it was great to watch, though home town fans were anticipating more attack from their side and questioned some tackling [social media exploded post match]. Needing to score two tries to bring them a win, they were becoming frustrated now. After injuries removed Sexton and Henshaw, replacements were not able to bring that same ability.

All Blacks victorious on the day

Pleased, but with some concerns, that is the verdict. A hard earned victory, no doubt. Having to defend for an eternity, the stats show an extremely high penalty count almost two-to-one against New Zealand. Possession was very much in Ireland’s favour, with the visitors better able to convert opportunities.

Kieran Read was asked what his assessment was post-game.”I felt we responded well. Our start probably set the tone, and then we just had to defend.”. A reality, when you see the penalty count of 4-14 against them. The visitors did all the tackling, only coming right in the final 20 minutes. That same factor that has engineered so many wins in 2016, helped them to again step out of the white-hot heat of Dublin, unscathed.

“Proud of the guys effort, it was awesome out there.”

Hard to fault the Irish team. They might drop their heads afterward, but most of the match was theirs to make the most of. Coach Joe Schmidt mirrored Rory Best’s comments, that they were disappointed not to make the most out of their opportunities. New Zealand should count themselves lucky, that two yellow cards did not cost them this match.

But overall, it was a massive occasion, and the quality of rugby reflected that. A match-up worthy of a full test series–a third game would have been a monumental occasion.

Ireland v New Zealand: A Re-match Worth Waiting For

NOTE* Sam Cane and Malakai Fekitoa have been cited by World Rugby, and will face a hearing this week.


“Main photo credit”


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