Monday, July 04, 2022

NEW ZEALAND-42 IRELAND-19 (1st test)


I guess the way we Irish fans process our matches against the All Blacks can be put into two categories - "Pre-" and "Post-Chicago".

Because if you turn the clock back to before that historic fist win over this lot, a scoreline like this one wouldn't phase us and if all we knew was the result, we'd be able to take a pretty good stab at guessing how the 80 minutes went because we had seen it happen seen it so many times before.

Another feature of those many many defeats prior to 2016 was the comments we'd make after the full time whistle..."there were plenty of positives", "injuries cost us", "the ref had it in for us" or "we just didn't get the bounce of the ball" much so that those phrases had about as much credibility as "the cheque is in the post" or "the dog ate my homework".

But here's the thing...what if the cheque really IS in the post? We've beaten the All Blacks twice more since then, one of them our most recent meeting and we went on from there to have a more than decent international season. So there were legitimate reasons to be optimistic going into this first test, and when we started so well, it really looked like we were going to make it a contest.

Now that's not to say our opening spell suddenly made us look like favourites or anything, but right up to that fateful one minute spell where The All Black Winger Whose Name I Refuse To Type scored that interception try and Sexton went off, we were right there in the contest and that cannot be ignored.

Everything about that series which led to the Keith Earls try was good. Lineout in the 22, possession retained, phases in the red zone against what was always going to be a stubborn defence, plenty of ball control and patience until eventually it was sent out wide and even then there was composure from Sexton, Ringrose and Keenan to find the accuracy to get it out wide where "The Man" defied all his doubters to provide the finish.

It was all looking good at that stage, even with the conversion missed. Shortly afterwards Garry Ringrose clattered into their skipper Sam Cane and it really looked like we had come to compete. Then that same centre got on the end of a little dink through from Sexton and had his offload gone to Jamison Gibson Park the scrum half could well have been under the posts. But instead it went to Beauden Barrett. Fine margins.

Having won the first quarter, it was always going to be a matter of time until the home side created a decent chance and once they finally worked a smidgin of space on our left wing allowing new cap Leicester Fainga'anuku to get it to the line, our scramble defence wasn't enough to keep up with their recycling and Aaron Smith shipped it right into the path of Jordie Barrett who dived over the line.

Next came that pivotal minute, the 30th one to be precise. Having already demonstrated that we could convert good attacking opportunites, we were 8 or 9 phases into our next attempt and while the home D forced us into creative ways of retaining the ball, like Robbie Henshaw's behind the back effort, we still had reasons to be confident that we'd get something out of this visit into enemy territory.

But it all started when Ringrose bobbled the pass. Not his fault, it happens. But for this play everything needed to be perfect and James Lowe knew this which was why he tried so hard to adjust his run to be available. Garry managed to hold onto it, managed to offload, but Lowe's adjustments weren't enough for him to be there, not his fault of course. So the ball went to ground, and as we all know, when this happens it's up to the Rugby Gods to determine what happens next, for reasons only they know. And in this instance it fell perfectly for TABWWNIRTT and there was no stopping him from there. More fine margins.

Somehow, it's 14-5 after half an hour, despite our domination of territory and possession. And it's not like this was the kind of arena that chasing a deficit of more than a converted try is easy. But there was more to come.

On the one hand you want us to have the confidence to take a quick tap penalty at midfield and JGP is definitely the kind of player to do it. But we had done so well with lineout opportunities in and around their 22, plus we had just seen our early lead completely reversed so I was never confident about this decision paying off and sure enough the phases ended up in a knock on outside their 22 and it wasn't long before they were back down at our end again.

While I meant what I said about the bounce of the ball going against us at times, what the All Blacks did to us next definitely wasn't one of them.  There was so much space in behind our rushing defenders that when Beauden Barrett trickled through his little grubber it practically could have bounced in any direction and Quinn Tupaea would have had plenty of time to collect it and score.

The gods definitely weren't with us for try number four. To be fair, we were already under the kosh with them having won a penalty straight from the restart before enjoying front foot ball around our 22, then earning a penalty advantage, but when Aaron Smith spotted a gap up the middle and kicked ahead, we were teased a bit when it didn't quite sit for him but then it shifted away from all Irish players to a spot over the line where only Ardie Savea could get to it. 

Halftime, 28-5, game over plus a scoreline that never looked possible just twenty minutes earlier.

"Just win the second half" is all we ever heard from coaches when we've had our arses handed to us before the break and I'm sure it was floated in the Irish dressing room here, although like I said we had already shown we could hurt this All Black side albeit with little to show for it.

And while for the most part it was them punishing our mistakes, when a woeful exit clearance from Beauden Barrett was taken on the run by Hugo Keenan to set us up nicely at their 22, we embarked on a series of phases when referee Karl Dickson ignored two tacklers lingering past the ruck before finally pinging the third. With Joey Carbery leading our attack we put it to the corner, won the lineout then worked a few phases before flinging it wide where Lowe innovated an offload in the tackle to get it to Ringrose who applied the finish you see in the lead photo.

The next try from the home side was probably the most disappointing of the lot. It feels wrong to type the words "Garry Ringrose fell off a tackle" because even on the rare occasions when he does, if Henshaw is with him in the centre, it rarely costs their team anything but on this occasion when it was Ardie Savea in full flow, the Irish backfield is going to have no chance in stopping him if he makes it past those two. His nonchalant celebration was annoying to us of course but still understandable.

Still we didnt give up and on the next series of phases in their 22 Carbery looked to get it down only for the TMO, referee and NZL commentators all looking at the replay just to see if there was "separation " in his grounding, totally oblivious to the "try-saving" tackle made by Reiko Ioane whose first contact was with Joey's shoulder before actually grabbing the back of his collar and pulling.

At the time with my admittedly green goggles not only was there enough (just) to award the try, but even without it there was a nailed on penalty try and yellow card for a dangerous tackle. In a way I'm more annoyed now that it wasn't even looked it or indeed discussed by the commentary team. Had they reviewed and said it was ok at least there would have acknowledged what was clearly a challenge worth looking at.

Instead they went back for an offside penalty and having backed ourselves to "tap n go" a few phases later JVDF crashed over the line and this time the ref gave it, only for it to be called back because he actually did let it go before grounding so the home side escaped.

Their sixth try was another bad disappointment. We had struggled at scrum time throughout but even without that for Pita Gus Sowakula to take it under the post more or less unchallenged is going to look a lot worse in the DVD review.

Of all the home transgressions ignored by the officials, the more egregious was that by Scott Barrett on 74m. Now when I say "ignored", the ref did give a penalty for his charge into Peter O'Mahony as we rolled through more phases on their line, but even when you rule out the head contact it was minimum a yellow for being both offside and lightyears from anything remotely resembling a gate. As I type the window for a citing has closed so I really don't know what everyone else is seeing.

Anyway the ref did award a penalty after the next phase and when we all thought he was finally going to his pocket, he seemed to almost apologetically give a warning instead (his reply of "of course you can" when Savea asked if he could talk to his team mates was particularly grating).

So we did another tap n go and it looked like Andrew Porter got over...this time the call was that it was "held up" (ref) and "brilliant defence" (commentary) despite the clear evidence of a grounding in the replay (again when I say "clear" I mean "at least worth a mention").

Finally we got both back into their 22 AND over the line for real a minute or so later when Bundee Aki applied the finish and then in the 79th minute it was almost laughable that an All Black was sent to the naughty step after all that was missed before.

Now I know I've done a lot of "whinging and moaning" in my descriptions of the scores but if you read these pages regularly you'll know I generally do my best to be fair about my team's performances and even on second look a day or two after the fact I still felt we were hard done by at times.

All that said, over the 80 minutes it was probably right that we ended up on the losing side, although a 5-4 try count would have made a lot more sense than 6-3 did the way the match went. You just can't afford any kind of defensive lapses against these guys and we had too many, plus there were some set piece issues that need addressing.

However...going back to the "positives" angle, you can't ignore how much success we had against their red zone defence. If the three tries doesn't point to it, the lengths to which they went to stop us definitely do. And that is definitely something to bring forward to next week.

I'm short on time this week which is why this writeup is short on words compared to others but I still reckon I've said all I can about this match, though I will add that Joey Carbery's forcibly-prolonged cameo was impressive and overall I think both the selection and approach were justified. If you can't see a path for us to improve next week then I really don't think you want to.

Obviously there's every chance the All Blacks will improve themselves which is a scary prospect but I'll leave that broader discussion to the podcast during the week so be sure and stay tuned for that. JLP                                                      



Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019