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Last-gasp All Blacks make history

Sun, 24 Nov 2013 15:55
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The All Blacks clinched a dramatic 24-22 victory over Ireland in Dublin to record the first perfect season in the professional era.

It was the unkindest kick of all - Aaron Cruden's second chance to make history for New Zealand and deny history-making to Ireland. It was just seconds away from being the greatest day in Irish history since......

Ireland took the lead at 4 minutes. At 80 minutes they were still in the lead as they played keep-ball in the New Zealand half. Time was up. 80 minutes were over and they were keeping the ball in short phases. All they had to do was get the ball back from a tackle and kick it out into history. But no. The referee penalised Jack McGrath for going straight off his feet. There were five players off their feet but McGrath was picked out but then he was the first and he did come in at the side.

The penalty was about 15 metres inside the New Zealand half. The All Blacks, as you would expect, tapped and moved up the field in progressive phases till, 92 seconds later, far out on the left Dane Coles slipped a little pass to Ryan Crotty who had an overlap and the bearded centre scored far out. 22-all.

Cruden lined up the conversion, the Irish charged and Cruden missed just after over 82 minutes. The referee judged that the Irish charge was early, which clearly it was. And so he ordered another kick without an Irish charge. This time, on 83 minutes and some seconds, Cruden goaled and the All Blacks had won 24-22.

That ended a great effort by the Fighting Irish.

It was a thrilling finish but then it was a thrilling first half which ended with Ireland leading 22-7. History was beckoning the man from the Four Proud Provinces of Ireland who had played the half with relentless intensity.

In the second half the Irish intensity waned a little and the calm All Blacks moved the score to 22-10, then 22-17 with 15 minutes to go. New Zealand were penalised at a maul and Jonathan Sexton missed, in retrospect a vital miss. Then came those vital seconds beyond 80 minutes.

In fact it was a wonderful match - 13 penalties in all, no reset scrums, orderly line-outs, lots of quick ball at tackles and a quick TMO - played on a perfect pitch on a cold day before and enthusiastic crowd who played rather than watched.

They had lots to get excited about.

The start was staid - two president, Ireland and IRFU, to greet the players, three anthems, a brief one verse for New Zealand and two for Ireland, and the haka. Cruden kicked off but the Irish got into New Zealand territory and started bashing at the All Blacks from the first scrum with Cian Healy and Peter O'Mahony in the van till Conor Murray picked up and forced his way over between Wyatt Crockett and Andrew Hore. Sexton converted to bring his Test tally to 301. 7-0 after 4 minutes.

Stung, New Zealand attacked but Ireland were composed and repelled them. Instead Ireland went on the attack. Healy, Rory Best, Brian O'Driscoll and Murray got close. Healy, Mike Ross and O'Mahony got closer and then they went wide where Best forced his way past Brodie Retallick and Steven Luatua to score. 14-0 after 10 minutes.

There was just time to pinch yourself when you looked at the scoreboard and the game was on again with the All Blacks bashing but Ireland won a turnover at a tackle which they did several times.

Ireland lost Best who went off with his right forearm wrapped in a sling made from his jersey but Ireland kept on winning line-outs and several times shunted New Zealand back with mauls.

There was at this time in the match lots of Nonu effort which Ireland contained. Later there was Ben Smith activity. The active centres left little for the wings and one may well not have noticed that Cory Jane was playing.

New Zealand attacked on the right but, faced with Gordon Darcy, Dagg lost the ball forward into the arms of Rob Kearney who raced 80 metres down the left touchline to score. The conversion bounced back off the upright, in hindsight an important miss, but Ireland led 19-0 after just 17 minutes. It seemed that clearly Ireland was a land of miracles.

New Zealand bashed again till Charlie Faumuina knocked on but then New Zealand went left and Cruden, with his left foot, kicked a perfect grubber on the diagonal. Julian Savea gathered it in and scored. 19-7 after 25 minutes.

Ireland attacked and there was the unusual sight of Cian Healy running over Richie McCaw. Crockett was penalised at a five-metre scrum - the only scrum penalty in the match - and Sexton made it 22-7 after 33 minutes. Ireland's last score of the match.

One of the signs of Irish commitment in this half was that Ireland was winning the 50-50 ball. That was less obvious in the second half.

From a scrum New Zealand went right and Dagg dashed at the line. He was tackled by Murray and the referee consulted the TMO who found that Murray, brilliantly, had kept the ball of the ground.

New Zealand attacked again but Ireland won a turnover for Murray to clear only for tall Devin Toner to be penalised for sully, meaningless obstruction on Crockett. Cruden goaled. 22-10 after 52 minutes.

Crotty replaced Dagg and Luke Fitzgerald replaced O'Driscoll.

Cruden missed from in front with a horrible kick and Ben Franks came on for Crockett. The All Blacks attacked and Ben Franks, twice involved, forced his way through O'Connell and Kevin McLaughlin to score. 22-17 with 15 minutes to play.

With 7 minutes to play Sexton missed a penalty. Ireland's last clear chance to score.

But Ireland kept attacking though they wasted further chances with kicks that substitute fullback Beauden Barrett managed with aggressive ease.

Then came those dramatic four minutes, starting at 79 minutes and ending at 83.

Man of the Match: Aaron Cruden, so skilled, so cool and so effective. Three tries each, but his kicks counted and besides that he was the director of the match.

Moment of the match: That second conversion attempt by Aaron Cruden.


Villain of the match: Nobody. The very thought is silly.

The scorers:

For Ireland:
Tries:
Murray, Best, R. Kearney
Cons: Sexton 2
Pen: Sexton

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

Teams:

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 (captain), 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 (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Samuel 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)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

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