New Zealand didn’t need to move out of third gear in their 22-3 victory over Ireland at Croke Park.
The All Blacks delivered another ordinary performance, but such is the quality of this unit that they were able to escape with a victory against a passionate but limited Ireland side.
Despite completely dominating possession and territory in the first half, it took 40 minutes for the All Blacks to finally register their first try. They’d had a number of scoring opportunities prior to that penalty try, the majority of those coming to nil as a result of poor option taking.
This kept the belief high in the Irish side, and while the gulf in technical ability was evident for all to see, their spirit and bravery kept them coming back despite being battered by wave after wave of All Black attacks. Having established their dominance at the set pieces, the Blacks played expansively for the majority of the contest in conditions that allowed that style of play.
Ireland, through flyhalf Ronan O’Gara and scrumhalf Tomas O’Leary, kicked poorly, feeding the Blacks’ back three with ample opportunities to counter-attack. O’Gara had been targeted by strike runners throughout and that clearly affected his confidence. However, the triumvirate failed to capitalise, and the team cause wasn’t helped by the normally dependable Dan Carter missing his first two penalty attempts.
He finally got it right 25 minutes into the Test, but O’Gara replied soon after to level the scores.
The Blacks continued to attack and finally profited after a grubber was stabbed through for Richie McCaw, who was shooting down the touchline. Ireland winger Tommy Bowe scrambled desperately to deny McCaw and succeeded, although his slap into touch was rightfully adjudged to have been illegal.
He earned a yellow, and the Blacks were awarded a penalty try on the stroke of half-time. Carter added the extras to give his side a 10-3 lead at the break.
However, the Irish resistance crumbled in the second half, particularly when a 14-man Blacks side struck twice in the space of five minutes to make the score 22-3, the first after a move in which Joe Rokocoko cut the defence to pieces to set up a score for Ma’a Nonu, while the second saw Brad Thorn smash over the line following an expansive move.
The 19-point deficit was a massive one when considering that Ireland had been limited to a handful of scoring chances, and the Blacks simply absorbed their toothless attacks and drove them back into their territory from where they ran the clock down.
The grand slam challenge is still on track. Wales at the Millennium Stadium are next and the smart money will be on the Blacks continuing their march towards their goal.
Ireland - Penalty: Ronan O’Gara
New Zealand - Tries: Penalty try, Ma’a Nonu, Brad Thorn. Conversion: Dan Carter (2). Penalty: Carter