Second best

All Blacks depart Dublin after being 'manipulated' by clever Ireland

‘We’re still stuck between the old way and the new way.’

STEVE HANSEN SEEMED to be slightly confused on Sunday morning when he was reflecting on one of the big moments in the All Blacks’ defeat to Ireland.

He paid tribute to Devin Toner’s athleticism in highlighting what he believed was the second row’s save of a possible Ben Smith try in the second half, an act that Peter O’Mahony had actually pulled off to great acclaim.

Bundee Aki, Iain Henderson and Sean Cronin, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale and Joey Carbery celebrate at the final whistle The All Blacks were left dejected in Dublin. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

It was understandable from Hansen’s point of view, given that there were Irish players all over the pitch making big plays to frustrate, out-fight and out-think the Kiwis.

New Zealand were close on Saturday night, of that there should be little doubt, and had Kieran Read held the ball after blocking down Jacob Stockdale’s chip kick in the Ireland half, it’s likely the story would have finished very differently.

Instead, Stockdale bounced back a few minutes later as Ireland manipulated the Kiwi defence to create the space for their indomitable wing to chip into.

“It was well done and when they score a try like that you’ve just got to acknowledge the way they do that,” said All Blacks wing Ben Smith afterwards.

“As a team, they have got a lot of tricks up their sleeve, but we’ve got to be a bit better with how we defend those tricks and that is an example.

“I suppose they sort of manipulated us a wee bit with bringing myself up and then kicking in behind the space. It’s just well done and, as I said before, they played really well and deserved their win.”

No excuses from the Kiwis and though Hansen had a bit of what Joe Schmidt called “banter” in declaring Ireland as World Cup favourites, the All Blacks will be focusing their attention internally over the coming summer months back home.

CJ Stander celebrates after the game CJ Stander enjoys Ireland's win. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The defeat underlined more clearly than ever to Hansen that there is still work to be done.

“If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve tried to change how we want to play and we’re still stuck between the old way and the new way,” said Hansen on Sunday morning.

“We haven’t got it right yet. Did we think we were going to have it right by now? Probably not but we’ve got a bit of work to do over the summer.

“We’re not going to fix it in a week, but we will fix it and when we get it right, we’ll see some big improvements.

“You introduce something that’s new after doing something for four or five years, it’s hard to break those habits and particularly under pressure.

“At times last night, we left opportunities on the park if we had gone the new way, but it’s about everyone seeing the same picture at the same time and we’ve got to be patient with that and get our decision-making better.”

Is Beauden Barrett the All Blacks’ best out-half, or might he be better deployed at fullback with Richie Mo’unga lining out at 10? Should Ben Smith return to the 15 shirt? Where does Damian McKenzie fit in? What’s their best centre pairing?

There are questions for Hansen and his coaching staff to answer, although they have enviable talent in all areas and are likely to come back from defeat even stronger.

Jacob Stockdale and Joey Carbery celebrate at the final whistle Ireland sent the Kiwis off to Italy in defeat. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Speaking on Saturday, Schmidt stressed that the World Cup remains a long way off, but this result does paint the tournament in a slightly less positive light for the Kiwis.

The All Blacks will undoubtedly go in as favourites, but the anticipation levels have only risen after Ireland’s win.

“There’s plenty of time and plenty of rugby to be played before the World Cup but it’s something that we’re aware of,” said Kiwi lock Sam Whitelock. “It was a great Test match and I think both sides will take learnings from it. 

“I think they had a couple of opportunities and they scored from it. I know our defence, myself included, at the start probably gave them a little bit of momentum.

“They held the ball and it felt like we were defending very well but we kind of let that pressure off by giving away a silly penalty, and all of a sudden they have another free go, and that’s something that we’ll address going forward.

“Then obviously when we had the ball, making sure that we can really penetrate. They defended very well so full credit to them, they didn’t give us many opportunities and the ones we did get, we didn’t capitalise.”

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