Ireland failed to repeat their historic win over New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening but the boys in green did put the mighty All Blacks to the test in what was a hard fought win for the World Cup champions.
Two tries from Malakai Fekitoa and one from World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett proved enough to dispatch an Ireland side who failed to take their chances.
Ireland only had nine points on the board despite boasting 70% territory and 67% possession. Joe Schmidt’s side may have dominated at times in the statistics department but the New Zealand defence was impenetrable despite the vociferous support of a packed Aviva Stadium.
Munster powerhouse CJ Stander broke the line early on and offloaded to the onrushing Jamie Heaslip who was hauled down just before the line.
Heaslip made the break himself shortly after and passed to Leinster teammate Sean O’Brien who seemed to be clean through until Barrett made a last ditch tackle and Ireland were again spurned at the last.
New Zealand started the game the better of the two sides, claiming their own kick off and rushing for the line.
Although Ireland managed to halt the initial push down the right wing, a cross-field kick from Barrett found Fekitoa in space to score the opening try within three minutes. Sexton responded with a penalty shortly after to keep the All Blacks on their toes.
In a game of hard hits, Ireland suffered, losing Robbie Henshaw, Stander and Johnny Sexton to injury in the first half as the All Blacks showed their physicality. Garry Ringrose replaced the stricken Henshaw for just his second cap.
New Zealand went close again when Barrett, collecting his own chip over the Irish line but his hand off was intercepted by Andrew Trimble who read the danger.
However, the ever dangerous Barrett was not halted when he collected the ball after a scrum and raced through for New Zealand’s second try.
Sexton almost made a saving tackle at the last, appearing to turn his opposite number before he had touched the ball down but the TMO was happy that the ball had been grounded.
Aaron Smith was sent to the sin bin after two consecutive offsides in what was a bad night for the scrum half but Ireland again failed to capitalise, only taking three points with Jackson kicking over after replacing Sexton.
Barrett again breached the Irish defence but his try was denied after he was rightly deemed to have knocked the ball on when taking it from Paddy Jackson.
Ardie Savea replaced Sam Cane and CJ Stander failed a head injury assessment after a collision with Fekitoa, Josh Van der Flier replacing him as the injury count rose. The tie was finely poised at half time with the score 14-6 to the All Blacks.
Ireland started the second half at a ferocious pace but still could not penetrate the stubborn New Zealand defence. Fekitoa was sent to the bin after an illegal tackle on Simon Zebo but Ireland wasted two penalty line outs while New Zealand’s try scorer watched on.
Zebo’s grubber kick found the onrushing Kearney but he couldn’t put Donncha Ryan through. Jackson slotted over another penalty to leave Ireland just a try short on the hour mark but then the All Blacks showed their class.
Barrett offloaded to TJ Perenara who found Fekitoa with what Ireland fans thought was a forward pass. Fekitoa raced home and referee Peyper awarded the try despite Rory Best urging him to use the TMO.
“There’s too much at stake,” pleaded Best but his request fell on deaf ears and Barrett slotted over to give his side a 21-9 lead and confirm that New Zealand escaped the Aviva with a very hard fought victory.