Ireland head coach Declan Kidney was greatly encouraged by how his side worked their way back into Friday’s encounter with New Zealand Maori, but their failure to close out a win left the night tinged with disappointment.
Having gone 15-0 down inside the opening 13 minutes, this much-changed Ireland side showed great resilience and quality with ball in hand to get back level for half-time.
With team captain Geordan Murphy, Gavin Duffy, Chris Henry and Niall Ronan particularly prominent, they managed to move ahead in the opening moments of the second half, courtesy of a well-worked try from Paddy Wallace.
An excellent goal-kicking display from Jonathan Sexton – he kicked eight from nine attempts – helped the tourists break into a 25-18 lead but a strong finish from New Zealand Maori, including a breakout try touched down by Karl Lowe, gave the home side a history-making win.
Speaking afterwards, Ireland head coach Declan Kidney said: “We play to win so it is extremely disappointing. I’m disappointed for the players because they put in a great effort.
“After the first 15 minutes we worked our way back into it, weren’t going too bad, up by a few points but then we didn’t close out the game. Whether that’s a bit of inexperience maybe, I don’t know.”
Along with the uncapped quartet of Johne Murphy, Ed O’Donoghue, Rhys Ruddock and Henry, six of Ireland’s selected starting line-up had just 10 Test caps or less.
Despite the result, there will be plenty of positives to reflect on in the post-match analysis, and Kidney was pleased to see his charges continue the good work put in by Ireland in the second half of the All Blacks Test.
“Last week was a tonking, you feel extraordinary after something like that. But this week is disappointing too, I wouldn’t say as disappointing but disappointing in a big way,” he remarked.
“We made all those changes, we believed in fellas to come through and after 15 minutes we learned to adjust to the way that game was being played.
“There’s a lot of three-second ruck ball and you have to decide do you keep going left and right or do you play up the guts? We’ll learn things out of the tour from that but for now it’s just disappointing.”
Asked what Ireland will need to improve on for next Saturday’s clash with Australia in Brisbane, the Corkman highlighted aspects in both defence and attack.
“All the different areas that we got better tonight have to improve again. Little things in defence have to improve.
“But a lot of things in attack too put the defence under pressure. We got turned over a few times when we went for the half break or the offload.”
With the likes of Geordan Murphy, Wallace, Sexton and Henry pressing their claims for a Test spot, the Irish management have plenty to ponder ahead of Tuesday’s team announcement.
Kidney added: “We’ll take a good look at it (selection). I think every time a guy gets a chance to wear a green jersey and he makes a go of it, you want to give that respect.
“Then you see what it is and come up with the best mix for next week.”