New Zealand shook off the indignity of their first ever loss to Ireland and triumphed 21-9 in the rematch in Dublin, leaving the host side battered and bemused on Saturday.
The Autumn Test at a sold-out Aviva Stadium came two weeks after Ireland’s 40-29 win in Chicago. That stunning upset broke New Zealand’s record 18-game winning streak, represented Ireland’s first triumph over the All Blacks in 111 years, and got Irish hearts thumping at the thought of achieving rare back-to-back wins against the world’s best team.
But the visitors stormed out of the gates on a mission to reassert their dominance. They scored two tries within 14 minutes, then spent most of the second half repelling more than a dozen Irish advances with last-ditch turnovers and disruptive fouls.
Ireland scored five tries in Chicago but none at home.
First-half collisions forced out Irish starters Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton and CJ Stander. Henshaw took a shoulder to the head from flanker Sam Cane and had to be immobilised and stretchered off.
Cane came off limping with an ankle injury after colliding with Sexton, while New Zealand full-back Ben Smith suffered a broken finger.
“Whilst it wasn’t always pretty, we’ve got to be pretty happy with the result,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “In Chicago, we turned up five per cent off mentally and they punished us for it. Today, we answered some questions about our team’s character.”
New Zealand led 7-0 after just three minutes. Stand-off Beauden Barrett delivered cross-field to an open Malakai Fekitoa on the left wing, and the centre side-stepped scrum-half Conor Murray and lunged across.
Barrett, named this week as World Player of the Year, doubled the lead by running straight through a gap in the Irish defence for an easy try. His delay in touching down the ball nearly cost New Zealand as Sexton caught him from behind and came within an inch of holding up the ball.
“That was nearly embarrassing,” Barrett said. “I was trying to get the ball right under the posts, but first things first, I’ve got to get that ball down.”
The Irish could muster only two first-half penalties, one each by Sexton and his replacement Paddy Jackson, despite forcing New Zealand down to 14 men after scrum-half Aaron Smith was sin-binned for kicking the ball away from Ireland’s ruck. New Zealand committed seven first-half penalties to Ireland’s one but led 14-6.
After halftime, Fekitoa was sin-binned for a high tackle on Simon Zebo, but Ireland turned that advantage only into another Jackson penalty that narrowed the score to 14-9.
The All Blacks struck the killer blow soon after Fekitoa returned from the bin, completing a counter-attack of brilliant inter-passing with his second converted try.
Ireland now face Australia on Saturday and lock Devin Toner insists that, despite their heroics in Chicago and a move up to fourth in the rankings, they must win that final Test in order to consider the Autumn Series a success.
“I think we do need to beat Australia to be able to call this run of Tests a success,” said Toner.
“Australia have had a gruelling tour with a number of big games, and they’ll be looking to finish on a high now.
“We want to do that as well, so to do that we know we’ll have to prepare very well, pull our socks up and get stuck into things straight away on Monday.”