Rugby history was created by the All Blacks but tantalisingly snatched away from Joe Schmidt’s Ireland in a frenzied Aviva Stadium yesterday.
New Zealand became the first side in the professional era to have a 100% record in a calendar year with a dramatic last-minute try and conversion that left Ireland and new coach Schmidt “devastated”.
The defeat was more gut-wrenching because twice Ireland blew the opportunity to snuff out the All Blacks’ comeback after surging into a 19-point lead early on.
First Jonathan Sexton missed a 74th minute penalty that would probably have closed out the match and then in the final minute Ireland conceded a needless penalty while running down the clock in the New Zealand half.
Schmidt said: “To be a minute away from history and have the ball in your hands on their 10-metre line, well it’s devastating. You don’t get too many opportunities to play the All Blacks and to stop them doing something that’s pretty special. It would have been a feather in our caps to be the ones to knock them over.”
Ireland blitzed the All Blacks early on with tries from Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney, who said of Sexton’s late penalty miss: “As players we will never ever criticise one of our kickers, because it is probably one of the hardest jobs they have to do and it was a massive pressure kick for him. Had we got that kick maybe it would have been very different.”
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw didn’t disagree. “That would have put it out to eight points, and the reality is that if that went over it was probably game over,” he admitted.
But his club kicking coach at Racing Metro, Ronan O’Gara, defended his fellow number 10, saying: “The next time he’s in a position with a kick like that, it’s going to go over. Obviously, it’s a very harsh lesson for all of us to accept. But no one incident decides a game over 80 minutes.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen suggested last night that Irish rugby needs a little more self-belief.
“Sometimes they don’t believe they are as tough as they are. All of a sudden we saw a team way beyond what we’d seen for a while.”
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