Stand-off Carter slotted the left-footed dropped goal from behind a scrum seconds before the final siren to keep alive New Zealand’s 107-year unbeaten run against Ireland and to deny the tourists one of the most dramatic comebacks in the recent history of international rugby.
After losing the first Test 42-10, Ireland produced a courageous performance to lead 10-0 during the first half. They took a 10-9 lead to half-time and tied the scores at 19-19 after falling behind in the second half. That deadlock persisted from the 68th minute until moments from full-time when Carter snapped the winning goal, giving New Zealand their 25th win in 26 matches between the teams. Only one match, in 1973, has been drawn.
Ireland played with a ferocity and determination yesterday which completely unhinged the All Blacks gameplan and shattered their composure, leaving the one-sided result of the first Test looking little more than an abberation. The 19-19 stalemate which came about when Irish stand-off Jonathan Sexton kicked his fourth penalty was based on the identical scoring record of the two teams. Both scored a try through their scrum-halves, Ireland through Conor Murray in the tenth minute and New Zealand through Aaron Smith in the second minute of the second half.
Sexton kicked a conversion and four penalties for Ireland and Carter a conversion and four penalties for New Zealand until he upset the symmetry of the match with his last-gasp dropped goal. Carter finished with 17 points, lifting his world record tally of points in Tests to 1,284. Ireland steadily increased their intensity throughout the match and had momentum on their side late in the second half as they rallied from a 16-10 deficit after Carter had converted Smith’s try.
The Irish drew level with 22 minutes remaining and their hopes rose when All Blacks full-back Israel Dagg was sin-binned in the 72nd minute for a clumsy late tackle on his opposite Rob Kearney which left New Zealand to face the crucial last ten minutes of the match with only 14 men. But they were unable to put the All Blacks away. Sexton missed only one shot at goal all night and that was from the penalty that followed Dagg’s sin-binning. New Zealand managed to force their way into attack and Carter missed one dropped kick attempt in the 79th minute, after a poor pass from Piri Weepu, before succeeding with his next attempt a minute later.
“We’re absolutely gutted alright,” Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said. “To concede early in the second half and then to fight back to get level and then to concede it the way we did at the end is very, very disappointing. But it was such a massive improvement over last week and I’m so proud of the lads.
“I just think we let ourselves down a little bit last week and let the jersey down. We talked about that this week and talked about concentrating on our own game and playing with the ball a little more.
“I think we managed to do that and we had them in trouble a few times but the scoreline still says an All Blacks victory which is difficult to take.”
Counterpart Richie McCaw admitted: “I’m a bit relieved, to be honest. It turned into a typical old arm wrestle and we made mistakes in the second half. We started the second half pretty well and got on top but crucial mistakes at times let them back into the game and the refereeing started to go against us, we got into discipline problems with penalties and gave the ball away. I guess at the end of the day, we’re pretty happy to get away with the win.”
The third Test is in Hamilton on Saturday.
Scorers: New Zealand: Try: A Smith. Con: Carter. Pens: Carter 4. Drop goal: Carter. Ireland: Try: Murray. Con: Sexton. Pens: Sexton 4.
New Zealand: Dagg; Guildford, Smith, S B Williams, Savea; Carter, A Smith; Read, McCaw (c), Thomson, Whitelock, Retallick, Franks, Hore, Woodcock. Subs: Elliot, Franks, A Williams, Cane, Weepu, Cruden, B Smith.
Ireland: Kearney; McFadden, O’Driscoll (c), D’Arcy, Trimble; Sexton, Murray; Heaslip, O’Brien, McLaughlin, Ryan, Tuohy, Ross, Best, Healy. Subs: Cronin, Fitzpatrick, O’Callaghan, O’Mahony, Reddan, O’Gara, Zebo.
Referee: N Owens (Wal). Attendance: 21,000.