By Gregor Paul
Sunday Jun 13, 2010
Thanks a bunch, Jamie Heaslip, for ruining a perfectly average test match.
If the Irish No 8 isn't feeling like a prize goose this morning, he should be. His red card after 15 minutes turned not much of a contest into a non-contest.
For some inexplicable reason Heaslip felt the need to try to knee an All Black head in a ruck. The ball was already coming out and the Irish were a metre from scoring - plonker. Total bampot.
Referee Wayne Barnes had no choice but to brandish the red and that was it - the All Blacks had the run of the place.
Ronan O'Gara made it almost farcical when he held back Cory Jane to earn 10 minutes in the bin and, in those 10 minutes when the Irish were down to 13 men, the All Blacks went ballistic. They were leading 38-0 by the time O'Gara plodded back out.
The plus side was that it allowed the All Blacks to get Victor Vito on five minutes before half-time and Sam Whitelock - who scored with his first touch of the ball - and Aaron Cruden on 50 minutes. The coaches were anxious to give all a run, but only once the game was secure.
The down side was that it made it hard to accurately assess just how vicious and dynamic the All Blacks really were. On the face of it, they looked devastating.
There was intensity in everything they did. The forwards, having been told to bar up and deal to a pack that was not in their league, barred up and dealt to a pack that dropped an entire division during the game.
The Franks brothers led the charge at the scrum. The lineout didn't wobble and this black mass swarmed over the ball at the tackle.
With possession secure, it was a piece of cake. The Irish didn't have the bodies to man the flanks. There was enough space for in-fill housing on the touchlines and the All Blacks just had to fix the men in the middle and then send the ball into the places where the green jerseys weren't.
They did it exceptionally well. Israel Dagg couldn't have imagined his debut would be so accomplished and he would have had Mils Muliaina squirming in his chair.
The fullback popped up magically and had the finesse of French lingerie - displayed beautifully with a delightful pass to set up Jimmy Cowan's second try.
Benson Stanley's maturity was obvious and he didn't stray from his natural game of straight running and big tackles. He clobbered Brian O'Driscoll early in the second half, and the Irish captain was looking around as he peeled himself off the turf to see who it was he had to avoid the next time he had the ball.
The main beneficiary of this soft encounter was arguably Dan Carter. The world's best first five endured a quiet Super 14 and the acres of space and abundance of possession he was afforded allowed him to play his way back into better form.
His confidence almost visibly rose during the game and he probed and darted like his old self. Hope that he really is getting back towards his best came after 50 minutes when he threw an inch-perfect long pass off his left hand to Cory Jane while both men were at full tilt. Only players of true class can pull off passes like that.
It was his last act - the coaches obviously confident Carter was back in a good place and Cruden was ready.
Inevitably, the All Blacks lost their rhythm and much of their authority when the bench was cleared.
The Irish were able to gain a little respectability and score a little too many points for the All Blacks' liking, but the experience will have done all the new caps a power of good.
What they have to remember is that last night was not the real deal. There will be much tougher nights ahead when high balls rain down on Dagg; when runners blast into the midfield and there is pressure to contend with.
There are reasons to be optimistic that the All Blacks are on their way to the peak rather than on the descent. It has to be tempered. Ireland, thanks to Heaslip, just didn't ask any questions.