A red card to Jamie Heaslip cost Ireland dearly in their 66-28 defeat to New Zealand in New Plymouth.
Much of the talk in the build-up was about Wayne Barnes’s influence on the match after the All Blacks’ 2007 World Cup quarter-final exit, but the Kiwi paranoia was unfounded. Barnes made the brave decision after just 16 minutes to send off Ireland No 8 Heaslip for two blatant knees to Richie McCaw’s head.
Despite Heaslip’s protestations otherwise in the past, he’s a player with a tainted disciplinary image (one just has to think of Heinrich Brussow’s gouged eyes after last year’s November Test), and he got what he deserved on this occasion.
At 10-0 down at the time, the match was over as a contest.
Debutants Israel Dagg and Benson Stanley started well for New Zealand, providing impetus on attack as the Blacks kept ball in hand through many phases in wet and slippery conditions. Dagg broke the line virtually every time he touched the ball, while the hosts used a direct approach instead of a lateral one adopted by most of their Super 14 sides.
At 17-0 down matters only got worse for Ireland as Ronan O’Gara – who had a shocking game before the incident – was yellow carded for a cynical infringement in defence after 24 minutes. Two disciplinary indiscretions from their senior players hurt the Irish, and in O’Gara’s absence the Blacks scored 21 more points to ease to a 38-0 lead.
The Blacks looked impressive in scoring five tries in the opening half, but it must be viewed in context as they played against a weakened Irish line-up who also played with one man down for more than half of the 40 minutes and with 13 men for 10 minutes.
At 38-7 at the break, the Kiwis would have been looking to keep their structure in the final 40. However, Graham Henry and co would’ve been disappointed with the way the depleted Irish scored three second half tries and regularly troubled the Kiwi defence.
The Irish scored 28 points and didn’t struggle to get possession with 14 men, but the quality of the ball was the problem. The Irish lost their best ball-carrier in Heaslip, which robbed them of front foot ball for large periods. Deep in attack in Kiwi territory, Tomas O’Leary threw another poor pass and Dan Carter capitalised to put Conrad Smith away for his second.
Many question marks were hanging over Carter after an indifferent Super 14, and although he had an easy armchair ride against 14 men, he did show signs of returning to his best form. He also delivered a good goal-kicking performance slotting 17 points.
The All Blacks have a two-Test series against Wales in the next fortnight, while Ireland face the New Zealand Maori on Friday.
By Grant Ball