All Black magic too much for Ireland as they run out of gas

By Wynne Gray

All Blacks 27 Ireland 17

At times, the All Blacks looked as though they had absorbed the persona of the Blues.

Some of the imprudent work the Blues offered on their home turf at Eden Park this Super 14 season re-emerged with the All Blacks when they hit the same rain-drenched venue on Saturday night.

It was not as if they were unwitting victims of some unseasonal weather. Conditions had been woeful for much of the day and continued, as the meteorologists predicted, throughout the second test against Ireland.

Bring out the full forward repertoire, get Byron Kelleher to keep the ball close to his pack, bang the Irish in the scrums, reduce the high-risk strategies, kick for territory and let the opposition make the mistakes.

For much of the opening 25 minutes of the test, the All Blacks used those concepts and some fortune to hold a 17-0 lead after their strong work and some Irish frailty.

But from then until the final quarter a deal of extravagance entered the All Black game and their lead had shrunk to 20-17 as Ireland pressed for the clues to break their 101-year drought against the All Blacks.

"We played a bit too much rugby at times," coach Graham Henry conceded, "rather than pinning the corners.

"We needed to get a better balance in those conditions. We tried to play too much of the game in our half."

His squad wanted to play 15-man rugby, they were extremely adept at that style but found it difficult to switch tactics.

It was also a balancing act for the coaches who did not want to inhibit their charges.

Eventually the All Blacks rediscovered their equilibrium and drilled the Irish into the corners.

After several powerful scrums they created enough space for Luke McAlister to click past tackling turnstile Ronan O'Gara and seal the victory.

O'Gara's flanky defence had been a target in Hamilton as well, with McAlister admitting the All Blacks had been unable to isolate him.

But on Saturday at Eden Park, the omnipotent All Black scrum eventually allowed that liberty and history to be preserved.

In the middle stages of the test there had been injudicious attempts to run out of their 22, misdirected floated passes or dinky chip kicks that suggested the dry weather in Durban rather than winter in Auckland.

However, as Kelleher suggested later, even though the tactics could be debated the All Blacks adventure had led to Irish fatigue as their resistance failed late in the game.

"We just zapped the energy out of their legs so we got on top of them that way," he said.

By using the ball, the All Blacks forced the Irish to come up flatter in defence to leave space in behind their line. The All Blacks had the option then of kicking short or long to bring workers such as loose forwards Richie McCaw and Rodney So'oialo into the match.

That hurt the Irish who could not cope with the fast, physical approach of the All Blacks, Kelleher said.

"We had to keep the ball in play, the pack went up a gear and the backline was able to get over the advantage line.

"The scrum was also crucial, we were able to edge away at them, keep them under pressure and zap a bit of energy out of their legs."

Kelleher scored one try himself on the back of an early forward surge led by Troy Flavell and could have scored a second when he passed without realising he had run into a defensive hole.

Kelleher, though, was relieved to get through the game after being dazed in a head clash last week with Irish flanker Neil Best.

The All Blacks continued their record of not losing a test at Eden Park since 1994.

KEY MOMENTS

27 mins
Clarke Dermody's try, not for being his first in a black jersey, but because it came after a Chris Jack knock-on and could have permanently extinguished Irish hopes. Jack had charged for the line and lost the ball as he was tackled. Dermody scooped it up and dived "cat-like" over, as the amiable loosehead prop said afterwards. The Irish weren't laughing. That made it 17-0 and a blowout was threatening.

39min
Ireland's fightback took a giant step forward when hooker Jerry Flanney scored in the shadow of halftime. Ireland's forwards drove impressively from close to the All Blacks' line. The defensive maul was shorthanded, the Irish dander was up and as the players crumpled on the line, feisty Flannery picked the ball up and made sure of the try. With Ronan O'Gara's conversion, it was 20-14 and it was well and truly game on for the second half. Full marks for the spirited Irish.

71min
20-17 to the All Blacks, and the Irish clinging on. Three times the All Black pack tried to shove Ireland back to their line. Three times Ireland's much-maligned scrum held firm, so the ball was flung out to Luke McAlister who charged over the defensive weak link O'Gara for the match-clincher. It was a sickener for Ireland, who had defended so admirably. McAlister had worked out the poorest tackler in the Irish colours and for once with no loose forward support on hand, it was no contest.

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