All Blacks scrape home again

By Daniel Gilhooly

All Blacks 27 Ireland 17

The All Blacks pulled off another escape act to beat Ireland 27-17 in a rain-drenched second rugby test at Eden Park tonight.

As was the case with last weekend's 34-23 win at Hamilton, the All Blacks breathed a sigh of relief after surviving a brave challenge from the tourists, who again had a first-ever victory over New Zealand within their sights.

In a match littered with errors due to constant rain -- which varied from steady to heavy throughout -- Ireland fought back from 0-17 down after 30 minutes to trail 14-20 at the break.

They were within three points of the lead entering the final 10 minutes against an All Blacks side struggling to hold on to possession before a try to first five-eighth Luke McAlister created some breathing space for the hosts.

McAlister ended with 17 points, including five from six shots at goal on a difficult night for goalkicking.

The scoreline flattered the error-prone All Blacks but leaves them undefeated in 20 tests against Ireland dating back 101 years.

As was the case a week ago, Ireland were pushed around in the scrums but managed to again disrupt the New Zealand lineout.

They also defended staunchly and adopted a more conservative style than the hosts through the raking boot of first five-eighth Ronan O'Gara, which was better suited to the conditions.

The All Blacks often kept the ball in hand from deep field positions or tried short attacking kicks but the execution was often rusty.

All Blacks halfback Byron Kelleher opened the scoring when he burrowed over for a sixth-minute try and had a chance to repeat the dose midway through the half but opted to pass when the tryline appeared open.

McAlister slotted a penalty after 24 minutes and moments later prop Clarke Dermody flopped over the line for his first test try in just his second test after lock Chris Jack had gone within centimetres of the line.

Inspirational Ireland lock Paul O'Connell opened the tourists' account 10 minutes from halftime with a bizarre try.

He was tackled but not held and got to his feet to scramble across the line untouched as the New Zealand defence focused elsewhere.

McAlister landed a penalty but the Irish, by now declining kickable penalty shots at goal, scored an important try from a lineout drive via hooker Jerry Flannery.

O'Gara, who missed an early 50m penalty attempt, slotted a second conversion as the tourists took some confidence into halftime.

The momentum continued as O'Gara landed a 52nd-minute penalty but the All Blacks appeared to have more in the tank as the match wore on.

McAlister's 71st-minute try came from a straight bust through O'Gara and he carried two defenders over the line next to the goalpost.

It was the All Black's 18th consecutive home win, equalling their undefeated home record, and also their 14th in succession at Eden Park dating back to 1994.

The All Blacks' next test is next weekend against Argentina in Buenos Aires but that will involve an entirely different starting 15 to that which played tonight.

Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said he felt the same as after last week's narrow loss.

"It certainly wasn't vintage from either side out there today, it certainly was very difficult conditions," he said.

"Having fought our way back into the game, we conceded a soft try and essentially threw it away."

O'Driscoll said the response when 17 points down showed the character in his side.

"We've built that up in the last few years, I don't think you can ever count this side out.

"We realised that if we got one score and then a second we could get ourselves back into it and maybe the All Blacks would doubt themselves a little bit again."

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw admitted his side were again knocked off their stride.

"To Ireland's credit they fought back and put us under pressure. We perhaps tried to play a bit of footy in our own half near the break," he said.

"We tried not to put the ball out, we wanted to put them under pressure in their own half. But on nights like tonight, when it's a bit slippery at lineout time, it makes it difficult."

While he said the lineout needed more work, the scrum was again a saviour.

"I thought the last two weeks we've scrummed pretty well. We got a couple of turnovers there as well."

New Zealand 27 (Byron Kelleher, Clarke Dermody, Luke McAlister tries; McAlister 2 pen, 3 con)
Ireland 17 (Paul O'Connell, Jerry Flannery tries; Ronan O'Gara pen, 2 con).
HT: 20-14.

- NZPA

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