Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: It felt like Ireland were the winners against the All Blacks

The mini series with Ireland was drawn and yet it didn't feel like it. It felt like Ireland came out as the winners, the more physical and accurate and certainly the more disciplined over the 160 minutes.

In the basic elements of winning the ball and keeping the ball, they were better than the All Blacks in both tests. They attacked more because they had the ball more and while they maybe don't have quite the same individual offloading skills as the All Blacks, they had better collective cohesion and unity.

They used their composure and neat, sharp attacking ploys to build the pressure on the All Blacks in both tests. In Dublin, they couldn't capitalise with points the way they did at Soldier Field, but they had the satisfaction at least of seeing the All Blacks fray around the edges.

New Zealand's discipline was poor. High tackles were a problem. Staying onside was a problem and fair, or otherwise, they gave away 14 penalties.

They also made, again, a litany of errors and that failure to be accurate and composed with the ball was the surest sign that Ireland were getting to them.

That was the story in Chicago and in Dublin. All Ireland lacked in the latter was the killer pass, the last decision. They will look hard at why they didn't have it, couldn't do it, but they can save themselves time by accepting they encountered one of the better defensive efforts of recent times.

It was definitely the All Blacks' best defensive work this year and it was a performance that showed the depth of their commitment. Defence, as every coach always says, is all about attitude and no one could possibly doubt the All Blacks had that.

And no one should doubt the importance of it, either. Not in terms of what it meant for the result or for what it means in regard to future of this team.

As much as the mistakes they made with the ball suggested a mental fragility, the excellence of the All Blacks' tackling was a bigger sign of their mental strength.

They hung it all out there. They left nothing behind and while there were a few misses and a few mistakes in positioning, there was also a phenomenal number of crunching, driving, high impact tackles that rattled Ireland.

There was a willingness from everyone to scramble and scrap, to cover back and throw their body at something. Even little Aaron Smith, giving away 20kg to most of his opponents, knocked a few green jerseys back.

The value of, that is perhaps best realised by looking at how much territory and possession Ireland had and then remember that they couldn't score a try.

An effort like that says this All Blacks side has spine. Their inexperience led them into trouble at times, but their heart, substance and belief in each other, got them out of it.

These are qualities to treasure because without them, the All Blacks would have a future with significantly less hope. Desperation is no bad thing for any team to have and to find at when it was needed, that all bodes well for this team being able to battle their way out of tight encounters.

"Two weeks ago this team suffered their first loss and it created a bit of adversity and today was all about seeing how they'd stand up to that up," said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

"You can't coach character, you can't teach it. It has to be there. Did we play the smartest game of rugby? I don't think so.

"But to come out on top 21-9, three tries to none and defend for long periods of the game, I think they answered questions re their character. And while it wasn't always pretty - there is plenty for us to learn - to be at this point of year, losing 880 caps, you have got to be reasonably happy. It's a pretty good year so far."

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