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Wounded New Zealand face race to regroup for Ireland rematch in Dublin

The Guardian The Guardian 6/11/2016 Brendan Fanning
Ireland v New Zealand: Anguish for the All Blacks as Robbie Henshaw celebrates with team-mates after scoring Ireland’s fifth try. © Getty Images Anguish for the All Blacks as Robbie Henshaw celebrates with team-mates after scoring Ireland’s fifth try.

When the close to capacity full house at Soldier Field were subjected to the caterwauling version of Ireland’s Call, played with a bit of blarney on a violin, the day seemed to be heading only south. Moments later it was yanked back and pointed upwards, with the Ireland players facing the haka by forming a perfect figure of eight in memory of Anthony Foley. It was one of the great rescue acts. And not the last on a remarkable day.

What followed was a classic Test match, not for its low error count or non-stop action – there were lots of spills and the whole thing took an age to complete – but for the way it developed into a familiar and gripping theme: underdogs set the pace, and then are visibly running out of energy as they are chased down. The history of the fixture only heightened the prize.

Many All Blacks reach for the line that they don’t want to be the first ones to lose to Ireland. That will be amended in a fortnight into not wanting to be the first to lose back to back in this fixture. Technically there are speed bumps to get out of the way before the teams meet again in Dublin on 19 November – New Zealand have Italy in Rome on Saturday while Ireland take on Canada in Dublin – but the interim is all about what we will get when we tune in to the rematch.

“It is easy when you win, you give yourself a pat on the back,” Steve Hansen said. But when you lose you give yourself a wee upper cut because there are things you have got to get better at. We have to go away and look at where they beat us, how they beat us and how we are going to get better so that in a fortnight’s time we can contest the game.”

It is almost certain that effort will be made without the hugely influential, and now hamstrung, Ryan Crotty – his departure was felt most when the All Blacks were chasing Ireland down – and George Moala. On the upside both Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitlock are expected to hook up with the squad pre-Rome, with Retallick a better bet than his partner to feature against Ireland in Dublin.

Now they need, literally, an uplift at the lineout. In a nightmarish first half for New Zealand their stats out of touch were just that. By the break they were 57%, and while they had recovered to 80% at the finish the damage had been done. Ireland’s maul was very good, their tackle completions were first class until falling off a few in the final quarter. And their discipline was on a different chart to that of the All Blacks, conceding only four penalties against New Zealand’s 12.

And that’s what made this game different. In 2013 Ireland were caught in overtime having led 22-7 at half time; in 2001 they were 16-7 ahead at the break at Lansdowne Road, and when Denis Hickie scored early in the second half the packed house were convinced that game 15 in the series would deliver a win. Imagine if you had told them it would be game 29 before that bridge would be crossed?It all contributed to that commanding half time lead of 25–8. And when it got out to 30–8 early in the third quarter, with Simon Zebo’s try – Ireland’s fourth – the Kiwis looked badly rattled as they gathered behind their own posts. Brilliant efforts from the replacement TJ Perenara and Ben Smith changed the picture into one where Ireland would have to score again rather than try to hang on for the final 15 minutes.

Lifting the tempo and getting back into All Black territory, for Robbie Henshaw’s try – a record fifth for Ireland in this fixture – not only saved the game but changed the relationship between these two rugby nations. In that sequence of securing the territory, providing the platform with another perfect scrum, and then having the accuracy to score straight off the set-piece, Ireland made a statement that had been beyond them in 2013.

For that Joe Schmidt can take great credit. The reality is that pre-game in Chicago he looked like a coach who wanted to get through the day as quickly as possible, and with limited damage. Schmidt did not believe the preparation time en route to the US would allow his team to be close, never mind win. But he has done more than he realises with this group.

Now he has a fortnight to fine-tune the stuff that will make his team harder to beat. That effort will be without Jordi Murphy, who has a suspected anterior cruciate ligament problem, but both Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony got more miles on the road this weekend against Zebre and Ospreys respectively. And Johnny Sexton’s departure at Soldier Field, which allowed the stellar Joey Carbery a Test debut, was seemingly down to a cramp problem.

The rematch in a fortnight has long since sold out.

Ireland Kearney; Trimble, Payne, Henshaw, Zebo; Sexton (Carbery, 59), Murray; McGrath (Healy, 60), Best (capt; Cronin, 67), Furlong (Bealham, 59), Ryan (Dillane, 66), Toner, Stander, Murphy (Van der Flier, 26), J Heaslip

Tries Murphy, Stander, Murray, Zebo, Henshaw Cons Sexton 2 Carbery 3 Pens Sexton 2 Murray

New Zealand B Smith; Naholo (Cruden, 59), Moala (Taylor, 71), Crotty (Fekitoa, 26), J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith, (Perenara, 45); Moody, Coles, Franks (Faumuina, 60), Tuipuloto, Kaino (S Barrett, 45), Squire, Cane (A Savea, 60), Read (capt)

Sin-bin Moody 8

Tries Moala, Perenara, B Smith, Barrett Cons Barrett 3 Pen Barrett

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