New Zealand overwhelmed a battling Ireland side 38-18 on Saturday to stay on course for its third Grand Slam of the home rugby unions in five years.
The All Blacks have already beaten England and Scotland, and play Wales next Saturday in Cardiff. A victory there would mean a clean sweep of Britain and Ireland to match the achievements of 2005 and 2008.
Ireland, losers by 66-28 in New Zealand with 14 men in June, relentlessly attacked the All Blacks from the start.
But after Stephen Ferris’ try helped to lift Ireland 13-9 in front after 31 minutes, the All Blacks responded by tearing apart the home side with three converted tries in eight minutes bridging halftime.
The surge shot New Zealand 33-13 ahead and ensured the All Blacks would remain unbeaten against Ireland in their 24th match-up.
“We scored tries at very important times in the game and defended well when we were under pressure,” said New Zealand coach Graham Henry, who reached his 100th Test victory.
Number eight Jamie Heaslip put Ferris into a gap between New Zealand stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter for his first try for Ireland, a just reward for sustained pressure on the visitors’ defence.
Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton’s conversion made it 13-9, but the All Blacks had been the more threatening in the first half hour. They didn’t have to wait much longer for their first try.
After Carter’s fourth penalty cut the deficit to one, the All Blacks finally broke through Ireland’s tenacious defence with an Anthony Boric try that put them up 19-13 just before the break. Boric shed two tacklers from five metres out and stretched for a one-handed score.
New Zealand dominated from the restart with tries by number eight Kieran Read and replacement lock Sam Whitelock in the 45th and 48th minutes that put the match beyond reach for Ireland.
Read took a pass from flanker Jerome Kaino, who drew three defenders. Whitelock had to slow down to take a pass behind him, then weaved through two defenders to the line.
“We either switched off or just let them get too much quick ball at the start of the second half. They got a couple of quick scores and were just able to sit on that. We were our own worst enemy,” Heaslip said. “The sad thing is that I think we could beat them.”
McCaw, who along with fullback Mils Muliaina won a record 93rd cap for the All Blacks, said his team just needed to be patient and hang on to the ball to beat the Irish.
“We had to work hard for it,” McCaw said. “It was a good, tough Test match with both teams ready to have a crack.”
The Irish, undaunted, forced their way into New Zealand’s 22 several times but could manage only one more try by captain Brian O’Driscoll in the 57th.
Ireland appeared to have squandered that chance, too, when fullback Rob Kearney’s weak pass to Heaslip fell at his feet from five metres out. But at full sprint O’Driscoll scooped up the ball with his left hand and blasted through three defenders for the score. A video review confirmed no knock-on.
Sexton, who until that point had been 3 for 3 on his goalkicks, hit the left post on his 32m conversion attempt to keep the score 33-18.
“We said during the week that we had to run at them. They’re not infallible men, they do make mistakes, and their defensive line isn’t perfect,” O’Driscoll said.
“It just showed that when guys carried hard, and we rucked over well and got quick ball, we were able to create openings for ourselves. It’s just a pity we conceded before halftime. It would have been nice from a morale point of view to go in at the half with the lead.”
Read scored his second try in the final minute. Carter had been a perfect seven for seven on his goalkicks, but missed his final conversion to finish with 18 points — two short of Jonny Wilkinson’s world Test record of 1 178.
“I wasn’t too sure how many points I had and how far away I was,” Carter said of coming so close to tying Wilkinson’s mark. “I was just happy to come out there and put in a good performance, especially in the second half.”
Henry offered nothing but praise for his flyhalf. He noted that Carter could have shattered Wilkinson’s mark, but New Zealand chose to keep the ball following several Irish penalties rather than hand it to Carter’s uniquely gifted left foot.
“He kicked beautifully, didn’t he?” Henry said. “He ran the ship well. He’s obviously a world-class player and played like that again tonight. He has a very cool head, and he kicks well under pressure.” – Sapa-AP