Opinion by Rugby Reporter Jim Kayes
This was a night of firsts. The first test at Christchurch's new stadium, Ireland's first test in the city and a first test for young flanker Sam Cane who replaced Kieran Read at halftime after the No. 8 suffered another head knock. Sadly for Ireland though, they weren't able to conjure their first win against the All Blacks, denied a deserved draw after a rare Dan Carter drop goal secured a 22-19 win. Ireland will rue not keeping the series alive, and wonder just what they have to do to beat the All Blacks, but they can leave Christchurch with heads high, knowing they were truly in the contest this time.
The first half lived up to the billing of a test with Ireland so much better than they were in Auckland. This time they stayed with the All Blacks, matching them in their commitment and attitude, especially on defence. They were up fast and hard, slamming into the All Blacks key runners - the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw, keeping the home side try-less for that opening 40 minutes.
Ireland's scrum, after conceding an opening tighthead, was a weapon and they showed the courage often required to win at this level, turning down a kickable penalty in the 8th minute for the line out, and then scoring from the ruck. The best the All Blacks could muster in reply was three penalties.
Still, that try aside, Ireland's rather predictable attack never seriously troubled the All Blacks though that's forgiving given how cold it was, and it's not as if the All Blacks backs were full of dazzle.
The second half was an arm wrestle as enthralling as it was cold at the new AMI Stadium with Ireland stretching the All Blacks, forcing them into errors and conceding penalties. Replacement prop Ben Franks was pinged twice, first at a scrum and then a ruck, as Ireland sensed they might at last make history. When fullback Israel Dagg was sin-binned for a silly late hit on his opposite, Rob Kearney, it seemed this might be Ireland's night. But the resolve the All Blacks showed in last year's World Cup final was there again as they worked Carter into position for his winning kick.
The All Blacks have won the three test series but what coach Steve Hansen does with his squad in the third test in Hamilton will be interesting. Injuries to Read and Adam Thomson could force change but Hansen needs to be cautious. On the evidence of what we saw in Christchurch, Ireland aren't the powder puffs they'd seemed in Auckland. If the All Blacks aren't at their best again in Hamilton the first ever win Ireland almost achieved in Christchurch might happen at Waikato Stadium.