Man-of-the-match Sean O’Brien lamented Ireland’s failure to hang onto a five-point lead in the dying minutes of yesterday’s pulsating GUINNESS Series clash with New Zealand.
A late turnover allowed the All Blacks one final opportunity to overturn a 22-17 deficit and Ireland could not hold out as replacement Ryan Crotty touched down and Aaron Cruden coolly slotted the match-winning conversion.
Asked if he was angry after the gut-wrenching defeat, Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien said: “Yeah, I’d say I am angry. We should have trusted each other in the last couple of minutes. We weren’t getting set early enough (in defence), not coming off the line at them again.
“We just needed to want it that little bit more for the last two or three minutes of the game. That’s where you should be trying even harder. I’d say a lot of the lads are angry at the way it finished.”
It was admittedly one of the quickest games O’Brien has played in, but although he insisted he was sure players were tired after putting their bodies on the line for 80 minutes, it was no excuse for coughing up possession and leaking that late try.
“They weren’t tired were they?,” he said of the All Blacks. “We were in a good position (in the final minute). We were inside their half, probably could have got a bit more. They got a penalty when we sealed off or something and that was it. We kinda didn’t react quick enough.”
Putting the defeat aside, the Leinster back rower feels that the performance put in by Ireland against the world’s number one side – which was undoubtedly the best of Joe Schmidt’s short reign to date – can be used as a building block for success in the Six Nations.
Ireland host Scotland in the opening round of their 2014 Championship in February and O’Brien says they must reach the standards of their super-charged display against the All Blacks on a consistent basis.
“It’s massively important (to build on this). We need to look forward now, not think about all the negatives and if we bring that intensity and work-rate that we had at the start of the game into the Six Nations, then we’ll be in a good place,” he explained.
“If we can take a bit and get a percent better then it’ll improve the whole system. We’ve set standards in the past and today is one of those, but we’ve to make sure we kick on from there and make sure that’s there every day we go out, come Six Nations.”
It was O’Brien’s 30th cap yesterday and he has been frustrated with Ireland’s lack of consistency in recent seasons, and the failure to follow up on standout performances like those against England (2011 Six Nations), Australia (2011 Rugby World Cup), New Zealand (2012 second Test) and Wales (2013 Six Nations).
Now is the time, according to the Tullow man, for the players to stand up and be counted and know what is expected of them when they play at this level.
“I don’t think it was beyond our expectations at all,” he said of Ireland’s blistering start against the All Blacks, during which Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney all touched down inside 18 minutes.
“We knew that if we went at them and kept the ball and brought them through phases, we were going to score. You know it’s a thing we spoke about all week, they’re only a team at the end of the day. Obviously a very good team but I think we knew that once we had the ball, we were always a threat to them.
“I certainly wasn’t surprised about the pace we started at and the way we went about our business that we were scoring tries. But, look, we’ll have to move on and learn from this.
“You know, I think it’s time lads grew up and got to know what’s expected of them when they pull on an Irish jersey.
“I think lads will have to have a good look at their game and assess where we are and what we did well and what we didn’t do so well.
“We can improve on that performance today. We were obviously annoyed after the Australia game and that fuelled the fire for today. That performance, we can be proud of it. But you know it still wasn’t good enough.”