The All Blacks launched their post-World Cup era with a late charge to secure a grim 21-11 victory over Ireland in a Test played in difficult conditions yesterday.
In the first Test since their shock early exit from the World Cup last year, the All Blacks were flattered by the winning margin in a match played in pouring rain and a cold southerly wind.
The score was locked at 11-11 with 20 minutes to play before All Blacks pivot Daniel Carter broke the deadlock with a penalty and then set up the decisive try by Ma’a Nonu.
The brief piece of Carter magic, when a scintillating run burst open the Irish defense, was the telling difference in the Test where the lead see-sawed for the first 60 minutes and the teams turned at halftime tied at 8-8.
While the All Blacks could claim an edge in the scrums, the line-outs and rucks were even and defense was sound from both sides.
The All Blacks scored two tries, by Nonu and Sitiveni Sivivatu, and Carter kicked a conversion and three penalties, while Paddy Wallace scored Ireland’s sole try, with Ronan O’Gara landing two penalties.
In the process the All Blacks maintained their unbeaten record over Ireland from 21 Tests dating back 103 years.
With a bitter southerly hitting the ground, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw had no hesitation playing into the wind and rain first when he won the toss.
But his gamble that the All Blacks would benefit with the elements behind them in the second spell took a long time to pay dividends as Ireland held their own for the first 20 minutes of the second spell.
With English referee Chris White under instructions to strictly police the ruck area, the All Blacks were first to fall foul of the law in kickable territory, allowing Ronan O’Gara to land a handy penalty in the seventh minute.
But the All Blacks fought back into the wind, producing the first try of the match from turnover ball, which went wide for Conrad Smith to beat Brian O’Driscoll and send Sivivatu over in the corner.
It was a short-lived lead and it would be another 45 minutes before the All Blacks would be in front again.
Ireland struck back after a series of pick-and-gos on the All Blacks line, when halfback Eoin Redden moved the ball on the blindside for center Paddy Wallace to come in as the extra man and score.
After missing two penalties into the wind, Carter eventually found the posts with a close range effort to level the score 8-8 just before halftime.
O’Gara and Carter exchanged penalties in the opening minutes of the second half to keep the scores level at 11-11.
Carter broke the deadlock with his third penalty 60 minutes into the match and then widened the margin to 21-11 with a scintillating break that saw him set up and then convert Nonu’s try.
It was a fortuitous period of play for the All Blacks, for moments earlier Ireland wing Shane Horgan was in the clear only to be called back for a knock on when it appeared the ball had come off his foot. Ireland now move to Australia to play the Wallabies next weekend, while the All Blacks face England in Auckland.
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