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All Blacks take 81 minutes to keep winning record intact

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Sportal.co.nz     25 Nov 2013     Getty Images

New Zealand's never-say-die attitude was tested to its absolute utmost as they scored an injury time try to replacement back Ryan Crotty to draw level at 22-22.

But in charging Cruden's attempted conversion early, Ireland left him with a second, unchallenged, chance when he missed, and on the second occasion he didn't miss. In claiming the win the All Blacks completed an unbeaten year.

For so long it appeared that Irish frustration born of 108 years of losses to the All Blacks would finally be undone when a spirited home combination unleashed all the fires of Ireland in their quest for a famous victory.

The closest they had come to success was a 10-10 draw in 1973, but for the players in this side it was the memory of a chance denied by a Dan Carter dropped goal in Christchurch last year that provided the understanding of what it would require to beat the New Zealanders.

The heroes of the modern Irish era, Brian O'Driscoll, captain Paul O'Connell, fullback Rob Kearney, hooker Rory Best, No.8 Jamie Heaslip and newcomers of more recent times, halfback Conor Murray and first five-eighths Jonathan Sexton and perhaps the key man on this occasion flanker Sean O'Brien were in the thick of the action.

Unleashing commited forward drive, tearing into counter-rucking situations and tackling with deadly effect Ireland made life miserable for the All Blacks in a first quarter of lively intent from the home team. It was Irish rugby of an earlier era, a time when anything offered up by opponents was cut down at grass level. And it rattled the New Zealanders.

The further time went on, the more the Irish sensed an upset, and the more things seemed to go wrong for the All Blacks as they probed unsuccessfully for openings.

And as history loomed, the inside back pairing of halfback Conor Murray and first five-eighths Jonathan Sexton began picking off sniping kicks to keep the All Blacks back on their line. And from a lineout in the All Blacks 22m area a massed rolling maul resulted in a penalty goal chance which took Ireland beyond the seven-point barrier with five minutes remaining. But he missed!

Then a penalty was conceded as Ireland attempted to close the game out and from that New Zealand seized their chance to move the ball back downfield and the style of concerted play between backs and forwards that has been the hallmark of the side provided the winning opportunity when the continuity saw replacement hooker Dane Coles time his pass to replacement wing Crotty for the winning try.

Ireland scored three tries in the first 18 minutes to lead 19-0 before the All Blacks could get on the scoreboard.

New Zealand's preparations had suffered a setback when lock Luke Romano was forced out of the game after going down with a virus. His place was taken by Brodie Retallick with Liam Messam coming onto the reserves bench. But just after he scored a ninth minute try, hooker Rory Best was forced to leave the field with an arm injury. However, the method of the Irish pack was unaffected.

Ireland made the perfect start, winning the first lineout and scrum, and building good pressure in the All Blacks' 22 m area with several charges from the stand-off and from a ruck on the line it was Murray who crossed and scored for Sexton to convert.

After turning over the All Blacks' first efforts on attack with two powerful counter-rucks, Ireland headed downfield again and with O'Brien and Best featuring twice the ball was moved into the All Black's five-metre zone and it was Best who crossed for the try with Sexton converting for a 14-0 lead.

Again, as the All Blacks attempted to probe for breaks on the blindside, a bobbled ball from fullback Israel Dagg fell to ground and it was Rob Kearney who swooped onto the ball to grasp it and race 80m with the Dublin crowd cheering him all the way as Ireland reached 19-0 at better than point-a-minute scoring.

New Zealand finally managed a sustained period of control and with key breaks made by centre Ben Smith, and halfback Aaron Smith, the chances were created with flanker Steven Luatua and hooker Andrew Hore doing impressive set-up work before Cruden slipped a grubber kick through for Savea to cut back on the angle to take the ball at pace and get in close to the posts for Cruden's conversion.

Just after resuming after halftime, hooker Andrew Hore, in possibly his last Test, was replaced by Coles.

New Zealand recovered to secure more possession in the first 10 minutes of the half and went close when Dagg slid across the line but a video check showed Ireland had an arm under the ball. However, a penalty soon after saw Cruden land the goal.

A concerted All Blacks build-up resulted in breaks being made by Ben Smith, who had moved to fullback, Crotty and Savea, to create momentum and as the pick-and-goes, and one-off rushes were made, it was finally replacement prop Ben Franks who drove over to get the score back to 17-22.

Scorers: 

Ireland 22 (Conor Murray, Rory Best, Rob Kearney tries; Jonathan Sexton 2 con, pen) New Zealand 24 (Julian Savea, Ben Franks, Ryan Crotty tries; Aaron Cruden 3 con, pen). HT: 22-7