New Zealand overcome Ireland in a hugely physical contest

The All Blacks traveled to the Aviva looking to make amends for their loss in Chicago

Ireland, New Zealand,

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland were unable to keep up with New Zealand in a punishing encounter at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. 

Ireland 9

New Zealand 21

New Zealand started with a huge intensity from the very first kick, challenging Sean O’Brien and retaining possession, owning the ball for the first few minutes.

They were laying down a marker for what they wanted to do, and threatened Ireland’s line several times before they eventually put a crossfield kick over to the left to Malakai Fekitoa for an early try.

It was going to be a long day for the Irish defence from that point on, and Joe Schmidt’s side knew they needed to find another gear from their performance in Chicago.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan 

Ireland’s response showed that they had heard the message loud and clear, forcing a mistake from the kick and putting New Zealand on their heels on their own try line. They cleared it and won the Irish lineout, but the green shirts immediately won it back. A Jamie Heaslip break found Sean O’Brien with the whitewash in view, and the crowd found their voice again.

Ireland attacked with aggression, but opted to trust the boot of Jonathan Sexton to narrow the gap with less than 10 minutes gone.

Ireland suffered a huge blow with the loss of Robbie Henshaw shortly afterwards, as Sam Cane went high and caught him in the head with his shoulder. It was a penalty, but nothing more, as Garry Ringrose came in to see out the rest of the match. Similar to how they dealt with the loss of Jordi Murphy in Chicago, Ireland now needed to respond after losing a big starting presence.

Image: Robbie Henshaw receives treatment for his injury. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Beauden Barrett added insult to injury as he streaked through for a try shortly afterwards. Jonathan Sexton did his best to get back, and while the replays seemed to suggest that there was plenty of doubt over the grounding, the TMO was much clearer in his decision as New Zealand took an 11 point lead.

Moments later, it was Sexton’s turn to come off injured, heading down the tunnel shaking his head and feeling his hamstring. Ireland’s replacements were being called on to step in and CJ Stander, who looked to have taken a blow to the head, was the next man off, with Josh Van der Flier coming in to replace him.

New Zealand gave away penalty after penalty within touching distance of their try line, and Paddy Jackson narrowed the gap again to eight points from a short distance with nearly 25 minutes on the clock.

Barrett almost had a second with half an hour on the clock, but while the TMO was clear that this was a knock on, the All Black outhalf was bossing the game with the type of authority that made it easy to see why he was named the World Rugby player of the year.

Ireland’s defence was stepping up to the mark, but New Zealand’s own efforts on that side of the ball were more than up to scratch as well, as Ireland were unable to close the gap any further before the half-time break.

Ireland started the second half by asking New Zealand some more questions, but the All Blacks had the answers in defence, despite Ireland spending the majority of the first ten minutes threatening the All Blacks. New Zealand were shown another yellow in that stage as Fekitoa was sent to the bin for what was a very dangerous tackle on Simon Zebo. Steve Hansen’s side were not wrapping up, and were penalised for it again.

Image: Referee Jaco Peyper shows Malakai Fekitoa of New Zealand a yellow card. ©INPHO/James Crombie

There were several close calls for Ireland, as Van der Flier, O’Brien and Rob Kearney all though they might cross the line, but their luck continued to abandon them at the crucial moment.

Ireland were dominating possession and when the chance came to put points on the board, Paddy Jackson made no mistake and brought Ireland within five points of the All Blacks for the first time since Fekitoa’s early score.

The intensity of the game never dipped, with attacks unfolding at incredible pace and brutal tackles still flying in as the clock ticked past the hour mark. Zebo showed a remarkable turn of pace to stop what was an almost certain try, but the inevitable score did come moments later, despite objections of a forward pass from the crowd and Rory Best himself, who came out from under the posts before the conversion to ask referee Jaco Peyper about it, before being told there would be no captain’s referrals.

Whether the pass went forward or not, the All Blacks showed incredible hands as they moved the ball left to right and back again, with TJ Perinara, Barrett and Fekitoa all involved to create the space and cross the line.

The pace of the game was taking its toll on an Irish side who had emptied their bench in the first half thanks to all the injuries they had suffered. Another great break from Van der Flier failed to produce a score, and it was Barrett again who was there to make an amazing tackle with the game broken wide open. Ringrose and Jared Payne were the next to try their luck, but once again they simply couldn’t find the line.

New Zealand held firm to see out the game, restricting Ireland to just three points in the second half. Throughout the game, Schmidt's side put a hugely talented team under incredible pressure, but it was business as usual for the All Blacks as they stood tall against everything Ireland had to throw at them, once again.