New Zealand weathered an intensely contested opening half to comfortably prevail 22-3 over Ireland and continue their November Grand Slam surge at Croke Park on Saturday.
New Zealand weathered an intensely contested opening half of rugby before comfortably overcoming Ireland 22-3 to continue on their November Grand Slam mission at Croke Park on Saturday.
On the back of a long-winded Tri-Nations trophy triumph and Hong Kong sealer against the Wallabies, the Kiwis had demonstrated their contrasting physical and mental state to the north at Murrayfield seven days ago, but it was not the case here during the early exchanges as a packed stadium made life tough for its visitors.
Despite the scene being set for centre Brian O'Driscoll's 50th appearance as Ireland captain, the opposing blacks were ultimately not in a charitable mood as history failed to change at this special arena that had earlier drowned out the pre-game haka.
Past results were certainly against Declan Kidney's side, who had only managed to claim a 10-10 draw against their superior opponents in 1973 during the recent rugby era.
And as is their wont, the All Blacks' clinical edge eventually struck the relevant blows in sealing round two of their quest – but it took them until the second half to find their form with Ma'a Nonu and Brad Thorn following up a penalty try.
The early exchanges were, as expected, conducted in a furious manner with fresh-faced Luke Fitzgerald running well after an uncharacteristic Daniel Carter penalty miss.
Yet it was the even more international unknown in Tomas O'Leary who brought the crowd to their feet with a flick for the corner on sixteen minutes. Kidney had brought in the scrum-half for extra speed and grit around the breakdown area and his opening effort seemed to encourage O'Driscoll to follow his nine's kicking example on the other flank soon after.
Surprisingly though with 24 minutes flying past in the blink of an eye, the contest remained locked at 0-0 with Carter missing successive kicks, this time from number eight Jamie Heaslip's infringement under the posts – were the omens with Ireland?
Well maybe not as the Cantabrian master finally made his own luck at the third time of asking just a minute later with three simple points pushing the Kiwis ahead.
That did not dampen the hungry Irish spirits in the slightest however, as they immediately went downfield hunting a response, only to be thwarted by Mark Lawrence's whistle. But the southern official quickly endeared himself to the crowd soon after by changing his mind at a separate incident by penalising wing Sitiveni Sivivatu for a high-tackle on the covering Rob Kearney.
Both playmakers continued to endure below-par first periods and if O'Gara had not been unsuccessful with a long-range penalty on 38 minutes to level matters, his evening may have looked even bleaker than it eventually concluded.
There was controversy in the capital on the half's final whistle though, as a grubber towards the corner saw Richie McCaw have the ball deliberately patted into touch by Tommy Bowe, who found himself sent to the sin-bin before Lawrence awarded a penalty try – the extras added by Carter.
However, New Zealand's numerical advantage was short-lived upon their return to the field as prop Tony Woodcock landed a punch on Rory Best that left Lawrence pondering which colour card to choose. The South African opted for the less severe punishment but it failed to slow down the Kiwi charge as Nonu and Rokocoko combined for a sublime seven-pointer that widened the gap to fourteen.
There was arguably no way back for Ireland from that point as Paul O'Connell's limp summed up how the final 25 minutes were heading. The momentum was certainly with the All Blacks as this time Carter's swagger came to the fore, finding lock Thorn to stride over with the scores and stadium volume going in very differing directions.
From then on it was all New Zealand as their attacking master-class stole the limelight and was a pleasure to watch for a short period. However, both sides seemed to concede the inevitable result in the end as the Test disintegrated into a flat final quarter as coach Henry gathered his belongings for preparation ahead of next week's trip to Cardiff.
Man of the match: While his team-mates took approximately half the contest to find their rhythm, wing Sitiveni Sivivatu was superb from the outset. The Waikato man's running power and style that seems to stand up the tackler led to several good things in the All Blacks' victory. A mention for Joe Rokocoko as he continues his rehabilitation and also Ma'a Nonu at centre as they both played their part in the second period.
Moment of the match: The swagger was certainly found at Croke Park following Graham Henry's half-time talking to and the try from Ma'a Nonu was classic New Zealand rugby. The Wellington second five spread the ball to his wing who ghosted through the tiring defence before handing the ball smartly to the looping distrubutor which started the ball rolling.
Villain of the match: Maybe it has to be wing Tommy Bowe for an end-of-half attempt at the hand of god that ultimately cost his side seven points and a player for ten minutes. Maybe a slightly harsh call though as the All Blacks' second-half performance was always waiting in their locker!
For New Zealand:
Tries: Penalty, Nonu, Thorn
Con: Carter 2
Yellow card: Tommy Bowe (Ireland) – Deliberate hand on 40 minutes, Tony Woodcock (New Zealand) – Punch on 43 minutes
Ireland: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Fitzgerald, 11 Rob Kearney, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 James Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Marcus Horan.
Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Stephen Ferris, 19 Shane Jennings, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Keith Earls.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Stephen Donald, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Touch judges: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)
Assessor: Steve Hilditch
By Adam Kyriacou