RUGBY Correspondent Colm Kinsella was at the Aviva Stadium as Paul O’Connell came agonisingly close to becoming the first man to captain Ireland to a victory over the All-Blacks in 28 attempts.
Ireland were denied an historic first win over the All-Blacks in 108 years of trying with the final act of the drama at a rocking Lansdowne Road.
Ireland’s dream of recording a first win over New Zealand All-Blacks in 28 attempts was shattered with the final play of the game before a capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
A last gasp try from replacement Ryan Crotty -only awarded after the TMO adjudicated on two potential forward passes in the lead up to the score - and Aaron Cruden’s conversion - kicked at the second time of asking - gave world champions New Zealand a gut-wrenching 24-22 success.
It was an earth shattering blow for the home side, who had raced into a significant 19-0 lead after 18 minutes, thanks to opening quarter tries from Munster scrum-half Conor Murray, hooker, Rory Best and full-back Rob Kearney.
Ireland led 22-7 at a heaving Aviva Stadium, but the All Blacks bidding to go through the entire international season unbeaten with 14 wins, came roaring back in the second period. Tries from winger Julian Savea and replacement Ben Franks reduced Ireland’s lead to 22-17 with a little over 10 minutes to go.
Ireland did have the chance to put the game to bed in the 73rd minute, but out-half Jonathan Sexton was off target with a very kickable penalty attempt.
It was easy to forget in the spell-binding drama that Sexton was denied of what would have been a vital two points by the width of a post, with one of his three first half conversion attempts collided with an upright before sliding wide.
In the wake of their inept showing against the Wallabies eight days earlier, Ireland were heroic here, like warriors carried out on their shields at the end of battle.
The intensity, work-rate set piece and defensive play was simply outstanding.
Ireland defended desperately as the game ticked towards its conclusion and just as the delirious home supporters looked set to celebrate a famous win, replacement Ryan Crotty popped up in the corner with a game levelling try. Cruden’s successful conversion denied the Irish of a second ever draw with New Zealand in Dublin.
The similarities with New Zealand’s dramatic victory over Munster at Thomond Park five years ago this month won’t have been lost on fans of the province, with another utility back replacement Joe Rokocoko denying the home side of a famous win when striking for a decisive late try in the left corner of the pitch.
Munster’s talisman Paul O’Connell came within a whisker of skippering the first Irish side to beat New Zealand.
Afterwards O’Connell said: “Obviously, I feel very, very disappointed, frustrated as well.
“I think when we gave that final penalty, th were 60 metres away from our line.
“I would have been very confident with the way we had been defending that we would hold them out at that stage. It is really disappointing. There was a very good feeling in the camp all week. We knew we underperformed by a long way last weekend against Australia.
“But at the same time there is confidence in the talent of the players we have. It is just a question of getting that balance right between being accurate and detailed and matching that with intensity and attitude and emotion.
“You have to give credit to them as well, the character they showed. They have had some tight games in recent times and they stay calm and collected. It is bitterly disappointing for us, however.”
SCORERS - Ireland: Conor Murray, Rory Best, Rob Kearney try each, Jonathan Sexton pen, two cons. New Zealand: Julian Savea, Ben Franks, Ryan Crotty try each, Aaron Cruden three cons, pen.
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Sean Cronin for Best (injured, 14 mins), Luke Fitzgerald for O’Driscoll (52 mins), Kevin McLaughlin for O’Mahony (56 mins), Declan Fitzpatrick for Ross, Mike McCarthy for Toner (both 65 mins), Jack McGrath for Healy 69 mins), Ian Mdigan for Sexton (75 mins).
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Ben Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina; Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock; Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw (Capt), Kieran Read. Replacements: Dan Coles for Hore (42 mins), Ryan Crotty for Dagg (52 mins), Liam Messam for Lautua, Ben Franks for Crockett (both 59 mins).
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (IRFU)