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Sun, 21 Nov 2010 8:44a.m.
By Chris Barclay
Ireland's economy may be in decline but the stocks of its rugby team did not plummet as expected before the All Blacks moved a step closer to a rugby Grand Slam with a 38-18 win at Aviva Stadium.
Sidelines - Read LIVE UPDATES from the match here
Committed to providing their embattled people with a morale-boosting - and unprecedented - victory over New Zealand, Ireland ultimately had to be content with avoiding the Murrayfield-style massacre their Celtic cousins suffered last weekend in Edinburgh.
By nailing three converted tries within a 10-minute period that started on the brink of halftime, the All Blacks reassessed Irish goals and ensured Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina's record-breaking 93rd cap would not be recalled as a historic defeat.
After routing Scotland 49-3 - as the Irish plodded to a 10-point win over Samoa - another cricket score was anticipated as Graham Henry compiled a century of test rugby victories - and the All Blacks 23rd over their hosts since rivalry began at the old Lansdowne Rd in 1905.
Yet Ireland defied pre-match predictions by defending their line until the 40th minute when Anthony Boric scored a try the injured Brad Thorn would have been proud off from close range.
Thorn's replacement was unstoppable from 5-metres and when man of the match Daniel Carter - whose 18-point haul leaves him just a penalty goal in Cardiff away from eclipsing Jonny Wilkinson as test rugby's highest points scorer - the decisive momentum shift was underway.
Five minutes after the resumption No 8 Kieran Read strolled over in the right hand corner for the first of two occasions - then Ireland's plight worsened in the 48th minute when the match officials missed a dubious transfer from McCaw to the wide-roaming Sam Whitelock, subbed on for Tom Donnelly late in the first half.
With Carter unfazed from any angle, the All Blacks advantage had suddenly ballooned to 20 points - a dramatic turnaround after Stephen Ferris had the crowd of 46,302 in raptures when he crossed in the 31st minute - justified reward for Ireland's enterprising play even if the pass from Jamie Heaslip appeared forward.
The blindside flanker steamed through a gap to leave McCaw in his wake - the All Blacks other man of the moment Muliaina was also unable to thwart Ferris - the only blight on performances otherwise worthy of relegating Sean Fitzpatrick on the list of the All Blacks most enduring players.
Trailing by 20 points and with more than half an hour to limit further damage, the Irish might have feared incurring a deficit similar to the 66-28 thrashing they sustained in New Plymouth five months ago.
But they remained defiant and after turning down two kickable penalties in search of a five pointers their positivity was rewarded when captain Brian O'Driscoll powered over in the 57th minute after Ireland's other dangerous back Rob Kearney fired a hopeful pass infield.
Keith Earls also went desperately close in the 75th minute but lost control off the ball over the line when jolted by Cory Jane, instead it was Read who had the final say when he returned to his favourite corner to give Carter the hardest - and only unsuccessful kick - of his eight attempts.
The All Blacks head to Wales tomorrow for their tour finale while Ireland host Argentina next week.