Fekitoa brace dashes Irish hopes
REPORT: Two tries from Malakai Fekitoa dashed Irish hopes of successive wins over world champions New Zealand.
The All Blacks prevailed 21-9 in an engrossing physical encounter at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Fekitoa's second try killed off the contest making up for his being sin-binned early in the second-half - man Beauden Barrett scoring the other 11 including a try.
The All Blacks go on to play France while a bruised and battered Ireland - who lost three key players in the first-half - host Australia.
"It feels a bit better [compared to Chicago] that was a real test match!" said newly-crowned world player of the year Barrett.
"We had to dig deep and the boys are exhausted."
Ireland's Conor Murray said: "All credit to New Zealand for holding on in there. We tried our best and full credit to our lads. We gave away a couple of sloppy scores."
"We gave them, not an easy lead, but a couple of sloppy scores. We tried to fight back, but credit to them for holding us out."
The All Blacks, intent on avenging the 29-40 defeat in Chicago a fortnight ago, came sprinting out of the blocks from the kick-off immediately pressurising the Irish and scored a try within three minutes.
Barrett saw space on the left and produced a trademark cross kick pass to Fekitoa and he opted to go on his own to touch down for his seventh Test try.
Barrett converted for 7-0.
Ireland weren't rattled one bit and stormed back, Jamie Heaslip feeding Sean O'Brien who charged for the line but was just held up by Barrett - the Irish eventually won a penalty and Sexton slotted it over for 7-3.
However, they were to lose star young centre Robbie Henshaw - one of the standout players from the Chicago victory - seconds later as he took a high hit from Sam Cane which flattened him.
The contact gained the Irish a penalty inside their own half but coach Joe Schmidt looked less than happy that Cane wasn't sin-binned for the challenge.
Henshaw to the relief of all raised his arm as he was stretchered off.
His replacement Garry Ringrose had barely settled before a moment of individual brilliance and vision by Barrett saw him cut inside Conor Murray and sprint clear only for Sexton to catch him and claim he had prevented him from touching down cleanly.
One camera angle said he was correct and another that Barrett had indeed touched down - the television match official controversially ruled it a try and Barrett converted for 14-3.
Sexton, so influential in Chicago with Murray, was the next Irishman to depart this war of attrition shaking his head having lasted just 17 minutes as he walked down the tunnel and was replaced by Paddy Jackson.
The momentum shifted back to the hosts when Aaron Smith was sin-binned in the 17th minute for two infractions and a superb passage of play with Jackson and Heaslip involved had the All Blacks on the back foot - again they came away with just the penalty as Jackson slotted it over for 14-6.
It came at a cost in personnel to the Irish as a third player CJ Stander had to go off.
Somehow the hosts held back the waves of New Zealand attacks with superb and courageous defence led by captain Rory Best and it was having an effect as the All Blacks discipline deteriorated with referee Jaco Peyper punishing them regularly.
This ill-discipline - similar to Chicago - cost them early in the second-half as Fekitoa's wild high tackle on Simon Zebo saw him sin-binned but the world champions line held repelling the Irish time after time.
Jackson reduced the deficit to just five points as they approached the hour mark.
However, the killer blow for all their efforts came with 15 minutes remaining as a brilliant move involving Barrett and TJ Perenara saw Fekitoa go in - Barrett converting for 21-9.
Again it was not without controversy as Best demanded Peyper look at a replay for a forward pass but he was turned down and shot a killer look at the South African referee.
Man of the match: Rob Kearney, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray were the outstanding Irish back, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Christian Stander, while he was on the field, did monumental work. Devin Toner, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Jack McGrath were not far behind. Ben Smith was, as always, was extremely dangerous with ball in hand, Malakai Fekitoa had his moments, Kieran Read , Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles were the most productive forwards. However, it was All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett who showed why he was recently named World Rugby player of the year with another masterclass - also winning our award.
Moment of the match: There were three great tries, but the most significant was Malakai Fekitoa's second try in the 66th minute - which ended the game as a contest. There was no way back for the Irish once they were more than a converted try behind.
Villain of the match: Two yellow cards - Aaron Smith for repeat offences and Malakai Fekitoa for a cheap shot. He was lucky it was only yellow.
Pens:Sexton, Jackson 2
For New Zealand:
Tries:Fekitoa 2, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 3
Yellow cards: Aaron Smith (New Zealand, 17 - repeat infringements at the breakdown), Malakai Fekitoa (New Zealand, 48 - foul play, high tackle)
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Christian Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Garry Ringrose.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Waisake Naholo.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com