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Forget the chaos, Ireland had the All Blacks’ measure anyway

It’s an old truism to say that records exist to be broken. Ireland were yet to win in New Zealand. The All Blacks were yet to lose at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Ireland’s comprehensive 23-12 win last night, changes all of that.

New Zealand stuck true to their World Cup runway plan, making only changes forced upon them by injury, rewarding performance and resisting the temptation to rush Will Jordan back into the starting line-up.

At least, those were the pre-match controllables. Once the match started, all bets were off and players buzzed around in all directions, on and off, too fast as it turned out, for the sideline officials to keep up with.

It was a similar story pre-match for Ireland’s Andy Farrell, swapping only Keith Earls for the dangerous Mack Hansen. Farrell was confident that his players didn’t need to be told what had gone wrong in Auckland and what the fixes were.

That was apparent right from the get-go, Ireland’s blistering start bringing a try for Andrew Porter within three minutes. The relentless recycle, shifts in the point of attack, pace and surety of execution were reminiscent of their wins in 2016 in Chicago, and 2021 in Dublin.

Sam Cane of New Zealand looks on during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 09, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Sam Cane of New Zealand looks on during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 09, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Thirteen minutes in and it was 10-0, after a turnover penalty won by the impressive Caelan Doris. Whatever possession the All Blacks were winning, they were making no headway against a very secure defence.

If things weren’t looking bad enough for the All Blacks, they were about to get significantly worse. At 16 minutes, Leicester Fainga’anuku jumped to check a Hansen kick through and succeeded only in making high contact. Not dissimilar to a situation in Super Rugby involving Caleb Clarke, when players leave their feet in that way, they lose control of the outcome, and a yellow card was always going to be the outcome.

The Roar experts break down the win to Ireland and England in a special instant reaction podcast

A second card followed, this time for Ofa Tu’ungafasi tackling Robbie Henshaw on suspicion in the attacking zone. Match officials generously conceded the All Blacks the benefit of the doubt on the penalty try.

Ireland had one shot on attack, 15 v 13, but lost shape under desperate All Blacks defence.

At the half hour, the officials were less generous to the All Blacks. “No mitigation” explained referee Jaco Peyper to All Blacks’ skipper Sam Cane, despite Cane trying to make the point that a centre (Garry Ringrose) stepping back infield into the path of a prop (Angus Ta’avao) without notice, was asking a lot of the prop to rapidly lower his body height to avoid a head clash.

No matter, Ta’avoa suffered the indignity, not unlike that suffered by Welshman Huw Richards in the 1987 World Cup semi-final, of being woken up with the news that he’d been sent off.

It was then that the match bordered on high farce with Quinn Tupaea and Beauden Barrett forced into packing down at a 5m scrum, leaving only five backline defenders. Somehow, Ireland managed to overthink things, and James Lowe spilled the ball.

The Fubar’s didn’t just belong to the players. According to World Rugby guidelines for uncontested scrums, with the situation caused by an act of foul play rather than injury, the All Blacks should have been required to remove a third player.

But the officials were as rattled as the All Blacks; their management inexplicably sending on a prop for an uncontested scrum, which meant that, once the officials restored some semblance of order, Ardie Savea took the rap, his night inadvertently done.

Then again, that’s the sort of night it was. Pressure does funny things to people.

Somehow, the All Blacks remained in touch at 10-0 and, desperate for field position and to apply some pressure, kicked for the corner.

This time it was James Ryan who saw yellow, and to frank the craziest, most confused half of Test rugby seen in New Zealand since 1981’s flour bomb Test, the All Blacks drew to 10-7; Beauden Barrett flukily nutmegging Porter under the posts and pouncing on the rolling ball.

The break came at a good time for Ireland; able to step out of the charged atmosphere and be more clinical about their approach to the second half.

Quickly, they reasserted their authority, in the 48th minute catching Fainga’anuku too far in-field on defence, allowing Ireland to celebrate Ryan’s return to the field with Porter burrowing over for his second try.

Under assault on the field and the scoreboard, the All Blacks handling errors mounted; sometimes under pressure, sometimes not. Far too many to give them any hope of taking the game back.

Also querysome was Beauden Barrett taking the penalty kicks for the sideline instead of brother Jordie. For a side struggling for field position, it was puzzling to see the All Blacks seemingly content with short distance gains when more was potentially on offer.

There was no such problem for Johnny Sexton however; in command of his game, able to enjoy and honour the foundation laid by his hard-working pack. And every time the All Blacks spilled the ball, restored to 8 v 7 in the scrum, Ireland now had a ready source of penalties.

Still the Irish worked overtime; seemingly clean breaks by Jordie Barrett and George Bower snuffed out by superb cover defence. And when new cap Aidan Ross spilled a ball in midfield, and Peter O’Mahoney’s hack ahead turned into a 50:22, there was never any doubt that this was the visitors’ night.

By now out to 23-7, the final stanza saw Ireland dig in with more steely goal-line defence, O’Mahoney keep the trainers busy and Kiwi fans frustrated, and replacement Jordan score a snappy try in the corner which, in the sum of things, didn’t really count for much.

It was definitely a case of too little, too late for the All Blacks. Albeit brave, they had been knocked clean off their stride; firstly by the precision of Ireland’s attack, then through their own ill-discipline.

Tactically superior in Auckland, Ireland read them much better this time around. And whatever plan B options there might have been, they literally collapsed like a house of yellow and red cards.

When under pressure, to respond, the All Blacks often look to simplify things, and turn to Savea to get his legs pumping up the centre of the field. Scratching around for upside, at least Savea will be well rested for next week’s decider.

Clutching for more straws for All Blacks’ fans, Sexton hobbling off with a dicky knee didn’t paint a good picture for the tourists. Then again, he wasn’t supposed to have played this week – that outcome still rankling many Kiwi fans – and it’s not to imagine his panel-beaten, rising 37-year-old body being patched up for one more go-around next week.

Certainly, his judgement wasn’t affected, Sexton taking the time post-match to rightly make the point that regardless of all of the card chaos, Ireland had been on top at the start of the game when it was 15 v 15, and just after half-time when it was 14 v 14.

That’s effectively New Zealand’s problem in a nutshell. With the kind of disruption and numerical disadvantage suffered, against such quality opposition, a 23-12 outcome could easily be written off as being ‘just one of those nights.’ That is, if the problems weren’t evident before the chaos set in.

With a growing chorus clamouring for his head, and his side beaten out of the blocks in successive weeks, coach Ian Foster will need to figure out how to get his side to reassert some much-needed authority and presence.

That will start at the selection table, with Dalton Papalii a non-factor at 6, and the 10-12-13 puzzle evidently still unsolved.

This always felt like a 2-1 series. Ireland has another match against the NZ Maori that, on reflection, they might wish they hadn’t agreed to.

If that is an advantage to New Zealand with respect to preparation, it’s clear that against a side as efficient as Ireland was in this victory, the All Blacks will need every little bit of assistance they can find.

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