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The ten minute period of inept rugby that cost the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
(Photos By Brendan Moran and Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Ireland’s roaring start was eerily similar to the way England went about defeating the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final two years ago.

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After securing a loose ball from a Beauden Barrett high ball, the Irish attack went about their work rolling over the top of the All Blacks, forcing them backward on every phase.

Using width, clever scheme and well-timed running lines, Ireland were clinical in executing everything with ball-in-hand to manufacture gain line in that first passage of attacking play.

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All Access with Morne Steyn
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All Access with Morne Steyn

Jamison Gibson-Park had the ball on a silver platter to fire away crisp, well-placed passes every time to keep the tempo high.

The signs were ominous as they marched into the All Blacks’ 22 only to give away a penalty for an incorrect entry. It already felt like the All Blacks were just clinging on to withstand the pressure being put on them.

It would be the story of the entire half as Ireland turned down kickable threes for the chance to put the visitors under the pump time and time again, forcing them to complete an extremely high volume of tackling yet for little reward.

Despite James Lowe bagging the first try by squeezing into the corner, Ireland left many points out there and ended up with a halftime deficit.

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The All Blacks had control of the scoreboard but not the proceedings on the pitch, and that would prove to be the case in the pivotal third quarter of the game where their mismanagement of the game was disastrous.

This is the most concerning aspect of the performance as the game was not lost at this point, far from it, and after surviving so many scares in the first half, they could not pull it together and play in a composed fashion even after taking a halftime breather.

The message was clearly to play for territory after being on the wrong end of the percentages in the first half. Trying to wrestle back the game, the All Blacks kicked long and uncontested from midfield zones rather tepidly to open the second half.

After some back-and-forth through the air, David Havili launched an aimless high ball that was easily marked by James Lowe. From the ensuing ruck, the All Blacks gave away a penalty, inviting Ireland to launch their first attack of the second half.

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Just like the start of the first, Ireland ripped off big metres by going wide on first phase through a Sexton-loop play, targetting Rieko Ioane as the fall guy and getting Lowe around the edge.

There was no stopping the Irish as they grinded the All Blacks down phase-after-phase, eventually scoring through hooker Ronan Kelleher pushing his way through Ethan Blackadder in a two-man tackle featuring a rather sloppy effort from Nepo Laulala.

Ireland used tip balls, and short, sharp passing to cut through the front line and get on the front foot. Black jerseys slipped off tackles left, right and centre. They just could not stop the waves.

The All Blacks showed no means of being able to slow the ball down, no energy to compete at the ruck to stop Gibson-Park ramping up the game speed.

Less than five minutes into the second half the game was tied up at 10-all yet the next ten minutes of play will be what is scrutinised in the review session on Monday.

After Ireland cleared from the restart, a long returning kick from Jordie Barrett managed to force a poor exit from Ireland and they finally got a chance to attack with ball-in-hand 40 metres out from the Irish line.

Mo’unga puts up another uncontested bomb after just one phase, Ireland return serve and the All Blacks get another kick counter and set up phase play a second time. A Retallick offload in the middle keeps play alive and fast hands to the right edge looked to get something going but Will Jordan drops the ball and nothing comes of it.

After some confusion, the All Blacks are handed a scrum and possession back after the drop. From the scrum play, Jordan at first receiver ripped a long cutout ball to centre Ioane, hitting him on the back shoulder and throwing off the timing of the play.

Ioane himself then forced a bad pass that hit the ground behind Sevu Reece, forcing the Crusaders wing to scramble back to pick it up. A panicked kick by Reece goes sky high with everyone offside.

Ireland regather, settle play, and Sexton pins the All Blacks deep inside their own 22 on the first phase. It got worse for the All Blacks after that lack of execution.

Next, Perenara tried to run down the blind side out of his own 22. Moody actually dropped the ball on the carry after that but the knock-on into the Irish player isn’t picked up. After that dicey play, Perenara cleared with another one of his low distance touch-finders.

In a passage that began with Sexton failing to find touch from his own goal line, Ireland ended up with an attacking line out 30 metres out. Three phases later Caelan Doris canterered through Codie Taylor one-on-one and scores.

The All Blacks just could not control the game to save themselves.

They really only have themselves to blame for the weight of defence they were put under. Poor kicking, bad handling, and an all-around lack of clinical effort in attack led to turnovers everywhere.

Jamison Gibson-Park outplayed TJ Perenara by a country mile in every facet of halfback play. The former understudy to Perenara at the Hurricanes gave the All Blacks 9 a lesson in clinical passing, fast ruck play, and exit kicking.

Perenara’s boot was like trying to drive with a pitching wedge at times, duffing them a short distance while Gibson-Park hit them long and into touch when needed.

The Leinster scrumhalf controlled Ireland’s tempo with ball-in-hand and wore down the opposition. His touch on the passes ensured that none were dropped, enabling Ireland to gain the upper hand and bend the All Blacks backwards until they broke or wilted on the goal line.

Nothing summed up the difference between the two more than after Doris’ try when a simple short pass from Perenara hit Laulala on the back shoulder, bounced backwards to be intercepted by Garry Ringrose and was turned over.

Gibson-Park stepped up on the next phase to kick end-over-end and pin the All Blacks down inside their five to the roars of the Irish crowd.

After another poor exit kick which failed to find touch, this time by David Havili, Ireland ran it back and a short while later they extended the lead to 20-10 through a Sexton penalty goal.

The All Blacks gave up 15 points through a complete inability to control anything and there are fingerprints all over the mess from just about everyone.

There was no ability to fall back into any kind of shape and play with ball-in-hand, even when in Ireland’s half.

The play lacked a lot of organisation and the kicking was mostly aimless, throwing up the white flag almost conceding they had no idea what to do next.

There were positives in the effort shown in defence but this isn’t about effort. There were positives in defence when England beat the All Blacks 19-7 in Tokyo. There is always effort from the All Blacks.

It’s not often that an opposition demonstrates better skill execution in the All Blacks, but that’s what a well-deserving Irish side did. They simply outplayed them, particularly over a 10-minute period early in the second half.

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