All Blacks: Second half blitz gets NZ home

By Gregor Paul

Very much like the Guinness, it took the All Blacks a long time to settle at Croke Park before delivering a result that will look a little more emphatic in the weeks to come.

Ireland are a cussed side, full of passion and street fighters with a little bit of twinkle toes and deception. They don't succumb to defeat without struggle.

This was never easy for the All Blacks, made harder by the cauldron of noise in what must be the most intimidating theatre many of these players are ever likely to encounter.

The noise, the emotion and the blitz of the Irish made it hard for the All Blacks to build their rhythm, to perfect their patterns and exert their authority.

Toe holds were hard to find. The lineout was about even, the scrums didn't really budge one way or another and the collision was a bit of a mess.

It didn't help either that Dan Carter missed two kickable penalties early in the first half that only added to the sense of nervousness and feeling that the All Blacks were a little overawed by the occasion.

Things only calmed down 10 minutes into the second half when the All Blacks scored two quick-fire tries.

By that stage, some of the fire had come out of the Irish and space was opening up.

It was also a period where the All Blacks found grater cohesion and used the ball more wisely and carefully than they had in the opening 40 minutes.

There was at last some width in the attack and when the ball went wide, the Irish defence was pushed beyond breaking point.

Ma'a Nonu looped round Joe Rokocoko to collect a pass after the wing had burst on to the ball and been faced with a limping Paul O'Connell. Once he was in the clear, there was no way Nonu was going to be stopped.

That was much the same when Brad Thorn took possession at a fair lick five minutes later. He was five metres from the line and just Irish wing Tommy Bowe to beat. The All Black lock thought about passing and then realised he was going to be missing out on all the fun if he did.

His head went down, his forearms came up and smash, he piled through the bodies and the All Blacks were out of sight.

Their opening score had come on the stroke of half-time when they were awarded a penalty try.

It was an awkward business. Referee Mark Lawrence had to make sure that Tommy Bowe had indeed illegally slapped the ball into touch. Once that was clarified he had to make a judgement call whether the illegal act had prevented Richie McCaw from scoring.

The TV replays suggested that had Bowe not panicked and stuck his arm out early, he probably would have beaten McCaw to the ball and forced it safely.

But he panicked and anyone committing foul play in-goal is taking a massive gamble. The stakes are so much higher and once the penalty try had been awarded, Lawrence had no choice but to issue the yellow card.

If it was a little harsh, there was at least some balance restored in the early exchanges of the second half when Tony Woodcock followed Bowe to the bin for punching Rory Best.

No one else saw the incident other than touch judge Cobus Wessels and Woodcock's heart would have been pumping when he heard Lawrence ask his assistant if the incident merited a red card.

There was a long pause before the negative answer came back. It all added to the drama of what was an absorbing if scruffy test.

The final quarter drifted, there were too many mistakes from both sides but the intensity never dropped. For the 83,000 people, there would have been no one feeling they weren't entertained for 80 minutes.

The purists would have wanted more structure, more cohesion and more precision. Rugby sometimes can't deliver that, though, when two teams refuse to back down, refuse to believe the game is not theirs.

New Zealand 22 (Ma'a Nonu, Brad Thorn tries, penalty try; Daniel Carter pen 2 con) Ireland 3 (Ronan O'Gara pen). Halftime: 10-3.

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