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New Zealand

Perfect year for All Blacks

24th November 2013 15:52

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All Blacks in the changing room

Close one: New Zealand

New Zealand made history on Sunday as a late converted try saw them beat Ireland 24-22 at the Aviva Stadium, ending the year with 14 wins from 14.

It was an incredible 80 minutes of rugby that reminded us why we love this sport so much.

Minute-by-minute from Dublin

Played on a pitch light-years ahead of some of its northern hemisphere rivals, Ireland and the All Blacks put on an outstanding spectacle in Dublin that had everyone captivated from start to finish.

And boy did this one go down to the wire as New Zealand, down 17-22 with time up on the clock, finally managed to bust the green wall through replacement Ryan Crotty before Aaron Cruden added the match-winning touchline conversion.

It will be a defeat that particularly hurts Ireland as they spurned a chance to move eight points clear in the closing stages, but Jonathan Sexton pushed a penalty inches wide of the upright.

Blowing a 0-19 advantage is going to sting.

Ireland had came out of the blocks in devastating fashion as they took on the All Blacks three gears up from last weekend's opening efforts against the Wallabies.

New Zealand were immediately rocked backwards as the hosts scored those 19 points in as many minutes, with Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney crossing the try-line.

The first score came inside four minutes when the scrum-half - recalled to the side in place of Eoin Reddan - barged over after good build-up play from the Irish. However, there was some doubt over whether he grounded the ball but TMO Graham Hughes deemed it a try.

Sexton added the extras but Ireland weren't done there and promptly went over again in the tenth minute when hooker Best finished a move he started by crossing on the right side. With Sexton's extra two points the hosts were 0-14 up as the All Blacks attempted to catch their breath. Dublin was rocking as Ireland took the game to the world champions.

New Zealand did recover somewhat and enjoyed some semblance of possession for the ensuing minutes but when Israel Dagg fumbled a pass on the right wing, 20 metres from the Irish line, the grateful Kearney gathered and set off for a foot race to the whitewash.

Finally this appeared to spark the flat All Blacks into putting together some fluent running rugby, which produced a try in the 26th minute of the game, certainly against the run of play.

Cruden spotted a huge gap behind the Irish defence, chipped through and Savea, who was unmarked on the wing, ran onto the ball to touch down with the conversion making it 7-19.

The Irish, though, were not deflated by that in the least and stormed back deep into All Black territory, only prevented from scoring by some gritty defence and were eventually rewarded with a penalty which Racing-Metro fly-half Sexton slotted over for a 7-22 advantage.

The Irish came out fired up for the second-half but it was their defence that held up as Dagg thought he had got over in the 50th minute only for Murray to be judged to have held him up.

However, impressive Irish lock Devin Toner handed Cruden an easy three points, for 10-22, as he obstructed loosehead Wyatt Crockett when the Irish were about to clear their lines.

Cruden, though, missed an opportunity to cut the deficit further with a long range penalty as the rampaging O'Brien attracted the ire of referee Nigel Owens, who was superb on the day.

Nevertheless, the All Blacks started to really test the Irish resilience and with 15 minutes remaining they went over through replacement prop Ben Franks and Cruden made it 17-22.

However, the indomitable spirit of the Irish shone as they drew on their last dregs of energy, pressuring the All Blacks into conceding a penalty which Sexton took an age over, but to gasps of disbelief he sent it wide of the posts. An eight-point lead had gone begging.

The costliness of that miss was laid bare in the final remarkable passage of play by the All Blacks as replacement centre Crotty went over in the corner and Cruden, at the second time of asking because of encroachment, slotted over the conversion to achieve that unlikely win.

Man of the match: We go for Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip, who was everywhere. Mentions too for Gordon D'Arcy, Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien while New Zealand's star man was Sam Whitelock, with Beauden Barrett impressing off the bench.

Moment of the match: It's hard on Jonathan Sexton but missing that late penalty came back to haunt the Irish. It handed New Zealand a sniff and that was all they needed.

Villain of the match: Nothing to report on a great surface and day for rugby.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries: Murray, Best, Kearney
Con: Sexton 2
Pen: Sexton

For New Zealand:
Tries: Savea, B Franks, Crotty
Con: Cruden 3
Pen: Cruden

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 David Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (capt), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Greg Garner (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)
Assessor: Donal Courtney (European Rugby Cup)

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