IRELAND WERE BEATEN by a stoppage-time try from Ryan Crotty and denied a history-making feat against New Zealand.
Having led 22-7 at half-time Ireland could not hold out the All Blacks and were pipped at the post in heartbreaking fashion. A missed penalty from Jonathan Sexton on 73 minutes proved crucial and Aaron Cruden’s conversion, which he was asked to re-take, completed a remarkable turnaround.
The players, including a concussed Brian O’Driscoll, applauded New Zealand off the pitch after their 24-22 win, their 27th Test victory in 28 games against Ireland.
Ireland got off to the perfect start after three minutes when Conor Murray backed himself to gun for the line. Tommy Bowe was screaming for the ball on the right wing but the scrum-half pinned his ears back and touched down despite the attention of three black-shirted Kiwis. The decision was ultimately made by the TMO but Murray was already in his own half and receiving back slaps from his teammates.
New Zealand pressed for an immediate response but manic Irish defence saw the ball ripped from Ma’a Nonu’s hands and cleared. The charged-up crowd had more to celebrate soon after as Rory Best dived over within a blade of grass from where Murray scored. Best went off soon after with an arm injury but his departure was barely noticed as another try was on the way.
Rory Best dives over to score for Ireland. INPHO/James Crombie
The All Blacks sought to breakthrough Dave Kearney’s flank but pressing defence saw Israel Dagg spill a pass. Kearney snapped it up and sprinted flat-out for 80 minutes; he would not be caught by Aaron smith. Sexton’s conversion struck the post but the lead was 19-0 after 19 minutes.
New Zealand got on the board after 25 minutes when Aaron Cruden put in a lovely grubber kick, which bounced fortuitously for Julian Savea to snaffle and dot down. The creator converted and the first semblance of doubt emerged. Ireland rallied well, however, and almost got try number four when Devin Toner went close out on the left flank. They earned a penalty off an attacking scrum as Mike Ross got the better of Wyatt Crockett and Sexton made it 22-7, which it remained until half-time.
New Zealand arrived out early for the second-half but found the Irish team out on the pitch already. There were a number of injury and scrum hold-ups in the opening stages but the visitors gradually worked their way into the Irish 22. Dagg thought he had grounded the ball out wide but Murray and the elder Kearney did enough to hold him up.
Superb Irish defence looked to have spurned the All Blacks of scoring opportunities between the 49th and 52nd minutes but Devin Toner made a needless obstruction to hand Cruden a simple penalty chance that he did not miss.
Referee Nigel Owens then penalised Sean O’Brien for failing to release the tackled man at the breakdown. Cruden’s kick swayed wide and the home fans could breathe again. Ireland then lost Brian O’Driscoll to concussion and Peter O’Mahony would hobble off soon after. The replacements would be required to match the intensity of the starting XV.
Ireland were struggling to get out of their half as the game went into its final quarter. Sexton and Boss put in big tackles on Richie McCaw and Kieran Read but the black waves kept rolling and Ben Franks burrowed over on 64 minutes. Cruden converted and there were just five points in it.
The home side dipped into their energy reserves and fought their way up the field. Murray put in a superb grubber that forced Beauden Barrett to concede a lineout and a rolling maul ensued. When the Kiwis dragged it down, Owens whistled for a penalty but Sexton’s kick was right and agonisingly wide.
The miss proved crucial as New Zealand committed everything to the final attack and Dane Coles teed up Ryan Crotty up to dot down in the left corner. The crowd called for a forward pass but it was a forlorn hope.
There was the added, late drama of Cruden being asked to re-take his conversion as Irish runners rushed the out-half and allowed him a second bite of the cherry. He took it and New Zealand finished 2013 with 14 wins from 14 games.
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