The All Blacks … kicked away the vast majority of their limited ball. With the pack outmuscled and the backline battling to deal with the inevitable rush defence, the All Blacks were guilty of misfiring passes that went behind the man and making errors in contact. –Liam Napier, New Zealand Herald 14 November 2021

By Roger Childs

In front of 52,000 fans at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland beat the All Blacks 29-20. This was their 3rd victory in the last 5 matches between the two countries. 

The Irish team had four New Zealand-born players in their squad and they all made significant contributions to the victory. Bundee Aki was solid in mid-field and Jamison Gibson-Park was impressive at half back, passing quickly to his outside backs and kicking effectively from the base of the scrum. James Lowe was one of the stars and he not only scored the first try but always looked dangerous on attack and made a crucial tackle late in the game which led to a penalty opportunity. Another Kiwi-born player, Joey Carbery, kicked that penalty and two others to seal the Irish victory.

The Irish were too relentless on attack and the interchange of passing between backs and forwards was very impressive.  They were also strong on defence and generally quicker to  the loose ball.

The entertaining first half

Lowe’s try was the only score for the Irish in the first half, even though the home team dominated the first 40 minutes. With 71% possession and 73% territory, Ireland mounted many sustained attacks on the All Black line and were only kept out by determined tackling. They did cross the line in the 29th minute, but the referee correctly ruled that there had been a double movement in the lead-up.

Two minutes later, the All Blacks made a rare sortie into Irish territory. From a lineout near the Irish 10 metre mark, Retallick took the ball and delivered it to to Papalii who made a break down field and passed to Codie Taylor who sprinted 30 metres to score. Jordie Barrett, had earlier kicked a penalty, so in converting the try he gave New Zealand an unlikely and undeserved 10-5 lead going into the sheds at half time.

Changing fortunes in the second half

After the break, the Irish swept onto the attack again. Johnny Sexton often doubled around in passing movements to provide an extra man. From one such movement, a ruck formed and hooker Ronan Kelleher crashed over for a try. Then seven minutes later, Caelan Doris scored a brilliant individual try brushing off Taylor’s attempted tackle and running 30 metres to score beside the posts. With the successful conversion, Ireland were out to a 20-10 lead.

But the All Blacks were not yet done. In the 61st minute, Will Jordan made a break down the right flank and kicked ahead for Rieko Ioane to gather. He passed back to Jordan, who raced around to score behind the posts. Seven minutes later, the visitors might well have retaken the lead, but Akira Ioane was denied a try after an interchange with his brother. The referee ruled, in a controversial decision, that the pass had been forward.

Sevu Reece also nearly scored from a clever kick-through by Perenara, but unfortunately knocked the ball forward close to the line.

In the end, two penalties by Carbery in the last ten minutes sealed the Irish victory.

Could the All Blacks have won?

Possibly, but they didn’t deserve to. The Irish were just too fit, fast and focused, and never looked like losing their grip on the game. The All Blacks made too many mistakes – handling errors, infringements at rucks and occasional missed tackles. Codie Taylor being sent off for a high shot on Sexton didn’t help. The New Zealanders did have the better of the scrums but that was not a decisive part of the game.

All the backs had their moments on attack and Jordan was probably the most dangerous. Jordie Barrett was excellent in taking the high ball but he and others were guilty of too much aimless kicking.        

In retrospect, one has to wonder at Sam Whitelock’s decision to take three points from a penalty in front of the Irish posts late in the game instead of having a scrum with the prospect of gaining seven points from a converted try. 

So it’s back to the drawing board as the All Blacks head to Paris for their final match of the season. Recent arrival Aaron Smith should be picked at half back to ensure that the backline get faster, more efficient service from the scrums and lineouts.