Saturday June 12, 2010
By tvnz.co.nz's rugby reporter Chris Mathews
Ireland committed Test rugby suicide as the All Blacks recorded a record score over the visitors at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth tonight. The Irish were down to 13 men at one stage as the All Blacks ran riot in scoring nine tries to four to win by 66-28. After an indifferent start to their 2009 Test season, when they went down to the France 22-27 in Dunedin, the 2010 vintage ripped into their work with real gusto as they superseded their previous biggest winning total over Ireland, a 62-15 thrashing at Lansdowne Road in 1997.
The visitors though were their own worst enemy as first their big number eight Jamie Heaslip was sent off for clearly kneeing Richie McCaw in the head in the 15th minute before first five-eight Ronan O'Gara was given a 10 minute breather for a blatant professional foul on All Black wing Cory Jane just 10 minutes later. It was effectively over as a contest at halftime as the All Blacks held a commanding 38-7 halftime lead but to the Irish teams credit, they came back strongly in the second half to score three tries to the All Blacks four.
It was the night of the All Blacks new boys though as six New Zealander's made their Test debuts. Israel Dagg, Benson Stanley and Ben Franks all made their run-on debuts while Victor Vito, Sam Whitelock and Aaron Cruden all featured off the bench. All six played well enough to suggest they will be around for some time to come but it was the newest All Blacks fullback who was the most impressive.
The 22-year-olds counter attacking ability from the back was a highlight of the night and now All Blacks coach Graham Henry has a happy conundrum: to either stay with Dagg or recall Mils Muliaina for the first Test against Wales in Dunedin next week.
Whitelock scored two tries in his second half stint while Franks also went over for a try on Test debut. In the first Test defeat of 2009 the All Blacks were criticised for being soft at the collision area but tonight the only sour note was letting Ireland in for three second half tries.
The positives meanwhile were in abundance. The six solid debuts were backed up by a powerful effort from the forwards at the set-piece areas, albeit against 14 men, as the scrum and lineout held their own. The off-loading and interplay between the back and forwards was also compelling viewing, especially in the first half, as the All Blacks showed glimpses of that Marseille form they long to replicate.
Jimmy Cowan played strongly in his 40 minutes of action, scoring two tries, while Daniel Carter, who became just the fourth player to score 1000 points in Test rugby, looked close to getting back to top form. Conrad Smith, who also scored two tries, and Stanley gelled well in the midfield while Jane in his 62 minute outing combined brilliantly with Dagg.
The All Blacks began with strong intentions with multiple off-loads in a two minute passage of supreme continuity before Carter slotted over the opening the penalty inside eight minutes. The Irish did warm into their work over the next five minutes but a turnover inside the All Blacks 22 gave Stanley the opportunity to set Smith away.
The All Blacks centre looked to have wasted the opportunity when he chipped ahead but Irish fullback Robert Kearney made a complete meal of it for Smith to pounce and score the opening try. The Irish followed up that set-back with a sustained period of attack but any hopes of the Emerald Greens ending their 105 year hoodoo was put to bed with that moment of madness by Heaslip in the 15th minute.
From here it was one way traffic as the All Blacks lifted their intensity further. Stanley, who had an impressive first half of Test rugby, fed Dagg down the touchline who off loaded to comeback kid Joe Rokocoko as the All Blacks threatened again. A few phases later it was All Blacks number eight Kieran Read who burst over from close range for his first Test try in his 17th Test. O'Gara was then yellow carded for holding Jane back before Franks rumbled over for his try to have the home side up by 24-0 inside 30 minutes.
The horse had well truly bolted in the Test match by this stage but Dagg wasn't finished as he dummied through a gap and passed inside for Cowan to score the fourth try of the evening. Cowan added a brace moments later as the Test entered embarrassing territory for the visitors. However replacement lock Dan Tuohy finally made a statement for the Irish as he burst through a gapping hole to narrow the gap to 38-7 at halftime.
In the second half Smith, Whitelock (2) and Neemia Tialata scored for the All Blacks while Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and Gordon D'Arcy scored for the visitors. The second stanza failed to live up to the absorbing first 40 minute spectacle, as the influx of substitutions proved detrimental to the contest, but the Irish will head to Rotorua to face the New Zealand Maori on Friday with a little more confidence: the 28-21 score line in the final forty minutes was nothing to be ashamed of.