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All Blacks show mettle in Dublin revenge

NZN 19/11/2016 Angelo Risso

The All Blacks have bounced back from their first bout of adversity in the post-World Cup era, grinding out a 21-9 over Ireland in Dublin.

Deserved losers in the last encounter between the sides a fortnight ago in Chicago, the world champions produced the goods this time around with an iron-like defensive showing.

Ireland were restricted to three penalty goals over the 80 minutes despite enjoying 66 per cent possession, the lion's share of territory, 14 penalties and two All Blacks sin-binnings.

The first-half losses of playmaker Johnny Sexton and inside centre Robbie Henshaw to injury also served to rob Ireland of the attacking potency seen in Chicago.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen said the performance, on the back of last week's thumping of Italy, answered plenty of questions about his troops' character.

The Chicago loss had been the side's first taste of hardship since the post-World Cup retirement of several senior stars, and they had proven their mettle.

"You can't coach character, you can't teach it, it's got to be there," Hansen said.

A particularly fierce Haka set the tone for the All Blacks' early-match performance, roaring out of the blocks to control the opening phases and push their noses in front.

A third-minute Beauden Barrett cross-field lob found centre Malakai Fekitoa, who duly skipped around his man on the left edge to score.

The Hurricanes playmaker was in imperious form at the Aviva Stadium, returning to the free-flowing running game that netted him World Rugby's Player of the Year gong.

Barrett made five first-half runs at the Irish line, including a stunning solo effort in the 13th minute to scythe through and nab his side's second five-pointer.

He made a further six runs, as well as six tackles, after moving to fullback in the second half.

A yellow card to halfback Aaron Smith in the 17th minute made life difficult for the Kiwis, giving Ireland plenty of impetus to push their way up the field.

However, unlike after Joe Moody's binning in Chicago, the All Blacks held firm and conceded just the single penalty goal during Smith's absence.

They repeated the trick at the start of the second half when Fekitoa earned his yellow for a high tackle, before the centre re-emerged to nab the game-clincher in the 66th minute.

Skipper Kieran Read admitted the match was one of the most physical of his Test career.

"We made it that way by giving the ball away a lot and giving them a lot of penalties, but the character of the men really showed up by the way we defended," the No.8 said.

On the injury front, fullback Ben Smith and openside Sam Cane both came out worse for wear in Dublin, suffering a broken finger and ankle injury respectively.

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