Ireland had high hopes, New Zealand had lingering fears. In the end, a familiar story unfolded. This particular Irish team may not be familiar with the 40 point streaks, but the rugby watchers in any trial will be well aware of the results, which states: New Zealand 40 points, someone else is much less.
Even worse for Ireland, who now have to regroup after the six-attempt hammer, Johnny Sexton left the field in the first half, the match still poised, with a head injury. Given the latest World Rugby press release and Sexton’s history of concussion, he should be stepping down for at least 12 days, so he will miss at least a second Test next weekend.
The All Blacks started playing after back-to-back defeats, one to Ireland, and a third to the Tourists in five Tests. Hence these strange vibrations come in advance. They also had to prepare without the usual coaching staff, who were hit by the Covid outbreak this week.
So Joe Schmidt, who has done much to raise Ireland’s standing in world rugby, chaired two sessions this week. None of this seems to matter. It was almost reassuring to see that nothing had actually changed.
What was revealed was the classic All Blacks movie. Indeed, Ireland early on felt that they were at least equal to their opponents – and for good reason, because they were. for 20 minutes. New Zealand is happy to give you that feeling. Then they fall. Or relaxed opposition. It boils down to the same thing.
After trailing 5-0 at the end of the first quarter, the All Blacks scored four attempts in the second quarter. In the midst of all this, Sexton said goodbye. It all started well. This confidence Ireland brings is well positioned now that they know and feel comfortable with their place at the rugby elite.
They rushed to New Zealand just as the match was in Cardiff or Edinburgh. And, as is so often the case in these places, they got away with an early attempt. He was excellent too, with nice passes of a different nature from Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan to set up Keith Earls to end a typical pass of Irish multi-stage attacks in just five minutes. All blacks looked nervous.
Then again, one sometimes wonders if they look that way on purpose. By the end of the first half should look lower. They hit the first minute in the second quarter. An episode of the Irish Playbook has released the new Leicester Fainga’anuku hat on the left side. It just got discontinued, but Jordi Barrett picked a streak and converted it.
The next stage in the classic combo of games against the All Blacks is for the newly reprimanded players to continue playing as they can win. Ireland did this. Then our potential competitors usually make a mistake. Ireland did just that, dealing with pressure under pressure, their captain wiggling at the same time, and Sevo Reese grabbing the loose ball with 22 runs to the try line at 80 yards.
Sexton left the fight at this point and dissolved Ireland. Jamison Gibson-Park, bristly and now without his usual captain by his side, exaggerated his role by trying to break out of a defensive tug. New Zealand flipped it, Bewden Barrett snapped, and Queen Tobaya snapped.
The All Blacks scored their fourth goal just before the break to give them a 28-5 lead, more points than Ireland have conceded in the first half in a decade – in fact the last time they were here. Aaron Smith showed his opponent what a break from the kick should look like and in the chaos that followed, Ardea Savia hit the loose ball.
If that’s ugly, Savia’s second win in the 53rd minute was a miracle. Any doubts remained thanks to Ringrose’s skillful goal in the corner after Ireland hit the corner twice.
So Savia received the ball, hit Rangers from outside and slalom through what was left of Ireland’s defence. In the final 10 minutes, another starter, Beta Gus Swakula, blasted off a scrum base to reach 40. Bondi Aki’s attempt three minutes before the end of the bout was a consolation, at least for him born a few miles away. Whenever things change, they stay the same. Let it be known, New Zealand is still taking a beating in New Zealand.