All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, in reflecting on an incredible comeback from his team against Ireland this morning, says had Johnny Sexton kicked a late penalty it would have been all over for his side.
Instead, Sexton sent the kick in the final minutes wide and the All Blacks clawed their way back to win 24-22, Ryan Crotty and Aaron Cruden providing the late dramatics with a try and conversion after the 80 minutes was up.
"When they took that shot at goal, which would have put them out to eight points [ahead] the reality is if that had gone over it was probably game over,'' McCaw said.
"But when that missed you could sense a lift in the boys, we were still a chance and perhaps the Irish boys, they were trying to eat up time and when that happens you sense an opportunity could come.''
Coach Steven Hansen, celebrating his team's perfect season with 14 wins from 14 tests, agreed, saying: "If they had kicked the goal it was all over but they gave us a sniff and that's what makes us as coaches very proud because it was special to take advantage of that.''
Crotty's try on the left, sent to the TMO for approval by referee Nigel Owens, drew the All Blacks level at 22-22, with Cruden's conversion, which he took twice after the Irish charged his first unsuccessful attempt, sealing it. Tries from Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney gave Ireland a 19-0 lead after as many minutes before the All Blacks came back, scoring through Julian Savea and Ben Franks before Crotty's late heroics. It meant the All Blacks maintained their unbeaten record against the Irish.
"Early in the game they certainly rattled us,'' Hansen said. "19-0 down, it wasn't in the script, that's for sure. They should take a lot of credit out of their performance. In saying that, I'm incredibly proud of the 23 guys in our team. To claw our way back across the line was a pretty special effort and it takes a pretty special team to be able to do that. Maybe another day Ireland would have won it but we'll take it and reflect over the summer on what has been a great year but at the same realise we have a lot of work to do to stay where we are.
"The Irish all of a sudden thought 'gee whiz, we're in this'. We expected them to be tough, every time we play them they're tough. But sometimes I don't think they actually believe that they're as tough as they are.''
Ireland's New Zealand-born coach Joe Schmidt said: "To be a minute away from history and to have the ball in your hands on their 10m line [and lose], yeah devastating.''
"A draw was as good as a loss to us. We haven't won in 108 years of trying against those guys, you know. There's been a draw before but we wanted to do what had never been done before.''
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