Ireland got their international season off to a losing start on Saturday as New Zealand ran in five tries for a 45-7 victory at Lansdowne Road.
PERMANENT TSB INTERNATIONAL: Saturday, November 12
IRELAND 7 NEW ZEALAND 45, Lansdowne Road (Att: 42,000)
Scorers: Ireland: Try: Marcus Horan: Con: David Humphreys
New Zealand: Tries: Sitiveni Sivivatu 2, Piri Weepu, Doug Howlett 2; Cons: Nick Evans 4; Pens: Nick Evans 4
At least loosehead prop Marcus Horan's 79th-minute try saved Ireland the ignomy of a first "nil" scoreline against the All Blacks since 1924, but there was no denying Graham Henry's outfit, termed a New Zealand 'B' team in some quarters, their second piece of a possible "Grand Slam" tour jigsaw.
While wingers Sitiveni Sivivatu and Doug Howlett both crossed for two tries apiece, handing Henry a selection headache out wide, the Kiwi pack offered the Irish forward unit, led by stand-in captain Simon Easterby, little leeway as the Tri-Nations champions roared mercilessly to their ninth win in ten 2005 Tests.
It was a bad day at the office for Ireland - they were simply outplayed and out-manoeuvred in every single position.
It was disheartening to watch as the Irish fell 12-0 down by the 22nd-minute. The All Blacks chalked up three tries by the interval, going 25-0 in front, but a degree of encouragement could be drawn from the second half as Ireland's defence stood solid for 26 minutes before Howlett got in for a couple of well-crafted scores.
Coach O'Sullivan will have been satisfied by the way in which Irish heads failed to drop - Shane Horgan, Donncha O'Callaghan, who were both agonisingly held up over the Kiwis' try line, and Geordan Murphy were all within inches of scoring Ireland's first try in the closing quarter, but Horan deservedly squirmed over at the death.
It was the Munster front rower's second try in four international outings. It was promising too to see Ulster duo Rory Best and Neil Best come off the bench to make to their Test debuts.
The visitors, though, were awesome, producing a power-packed display, sprinkled with some sparkling football and handling, that cut the Irish asunder and left the 42,000 onlookers present in awe, and in temporary shock in the first half.
The record between these sides now lies at 17 wins for the Kiwis and one draw (1973's 10-all stalemate at Lansdowne Road), and Ireland's win column, on this evidence, will not be budging for some time.
A small fire behind the North Terrace on Friday robbed the attendance of 7,500 spectators, but despite the eerie atmosphere at the Havelock Square end, Ireland got off to a good start, buoyed by a fine unrehearsed rendition of "The Fields of Athenry" right on kick-off.
Two minutes in, a long skip pass from Ronan O'Gara put Murphy galloping through into space. The Leicester full-back offloaded for Ulster's Tommy Bowe, winning his fourth cap, to hare up the right flank, but the move petered out when Bowe cut back inside rather than feeding the overlapping Murphy, who had just the retreating Sivivatu to beat, out wide.
Opting to keep the ball in hand, Ireland got plenty of possession in the opening minutes, but far away from the Kiwi '22. Some handling errors did little for the nerves and the All Blacks hit the front on 10 minutes when number eight Mose Tuiali'i broke free from a scrum and fed the onrushing Sivivatu to ghost over and score with some comfort.
Fly-half Nick Evans, who was stepping into the boots of the mercurial Dan Carter, slotted the convert and was central to the visitors' second try, twelve minutes later. He sent captain Richie McCaw bounding through up Ireland's right channel and though the flanker was hauled down short of the line, scrum-half Weepu was on hand to dive over under the challenge of Bowe.
Unforced errors were beginning to riddle Ireland's play. Ominously, Evans, who missed the conversion of Weepu's effort, fired the All Blacks into an 18-0 lead by landing two penalties on 27 and 36 minutes.
There was moments for Ireland in attack - Munster's Denis Leamy, playing his first Test at number eight, brought the home side into the New Zealand '22, minutes later, on an excellent 15-metre burst. Such actions were all too sporadic - from a subsequent drive, Malcolm O'Kelly and Johnny O'Connor went close to breaking Ireland's try deadlock, but the visitors' defence was too good.
With their line intact, the Kiwis swept up the other end and exposed more gaps in the Irish rearguard as Weepu slithered through and passed for Sivivatu to canter over in first half injury-time for his second, which Evans made a seven-pointer.
As is their manner, New Zealand opted to go for the posts when offered two kickable penalties by South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, early in the second half. Evans made no mistake with both for a 31-0 lead, eight minutes in.
Shane Horgan then produced a dangerous chip-and-chase run but the defence was solid again from the Kiwis, who raised Horgan and the crowd's ire on 52 minutes when Ma'a Nonu performed a spear tackle on Gordon D'Arcy just over the half-way line.
The incident, which is being reviewed by the IRB"s match citing comissioner, drew immediate comparsions with rested New Zealand skipper Tana Umaga's infamous challenge on Brian O'Driscoll in June's first Test of the Lions tour.
D'Arcy required treatment and Wellington centre Nonu was a touch fortunate to only receive a caution from Kaplan. Ireland gained a penalty, but not within range for O'Gara.
Both Howlett and Nonu, who just knocked on over the Irish line after a superb kick and collect, had tries disawlloed by the Television match official Roy Maybank (England). However, Auckland speedster Howlett did jet in for New Zealand's final two tries.
On 66 minutes, Howlett switched over from the right and handed off D'Arcy to touch down. Evans converted and also added the extras to Howlett's second, set up by some slick handling, on 74 minutes. In between those scores, Horgan was held up by the muscular Nonu after the Leinster centre had actually crashed over the visitors' line.
Murphy too was denied a try as he knocked on with the line at his mercy, but Horan was on hand, with Ireland camped under the Kiwis' posts, to drive low under a plethora of bodies and position himself well enough to dot down just before substitute Jimmy Cowan got hold of him.
Kaplan spotted it, sub David Humphreys converted it and it was just desserts on an afternoon when little went right for an Ireland side missing the considerable talents of injured trio Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Denis Hickie, amongst others.
Roll on the rematches on June 17 and 24 next year.
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy; Tommy Bowe, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan, Anthony Horgan; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Shane Byrne, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Malcolm O'Kelly, Simon Easterby (capt), Johnny O'Connor, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Matt McCullough for O'Kelly, Simon Best for Hayes (both 61 mins), Rory Best for Byrne, Neil Best for Easterby, David Humphreys for O'Gara (all 71), Girvan Dempsey for Murphy (76). Not used: Kieran Campbell.
NEW ZEALAND: Leon MacDonald; Doug Howlett, Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Mauger, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Nick Evans, Piri Weepu; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Ali Williams, Sione Lauaki, Richie McCaw (capt), Mose Tuiali'i.
Replacements used: Andrew Hore for Mealamu, Saimone Taumoepeau for Woodcock, Jimmy Cowan for Weepu (all 61 mins), Rodney So'oialo for McCaw (73). Not used: Carl Hayman, Chris Jack, Malili Muliaina.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)