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Ireland can't convert, key men lost, and the match officials in limelight

There were positives in the performances of Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier off the bench.

IRELAND WERE BEATEN 21-9 by the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium.

Read our full match report here.

Ireland can’t convert

Joe Schmidt’s men had 66% of the possession in this game and enjoyed a 69% share of the territory. They scored no tries.

More than anything else in this game, that cost them.

Ireland’s Finlay Bealham Jamie Heaslip and Josh Van der Flier after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There were many visits into the New Zealand 22, and many into the 10 metres in front of the Kiwis’ tryline, but time and again Ireland came away without a try. The All Blacks were always likely to score tries, so Schmidt knew his side did too.

There were admittedly two instances where Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander were held up over the tryline in the first half, but otherwise Ireland struggled.

They were more than willing to hammer into carries in their aggressive and direct game plan, but they were lacking the creativity to make more than their five linebreaks – two of them coming after the game had been decided.

The familiar issue of struggling to bring something different – which we spoke about again before the game – in the 22 was apparent at times and is the biggest work-on for this Ireland team.

However, more costly were a number of simple dropped balls in the New Zealand 22.

Losing key men

Robbie Henshaw was gone after 11 minutes, Johnny Sexton with 18 on the clock and then CJ Stander in the 22nd minute.

Had we been told that this would be the case before kick-off, many would have written off Ireland’s chances there and then.

Beauden Barrett scores a try despite the efforts of Jonathan Sexton Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

To lose three key players of their stature was so costly for Ireland in this contest. The playmaking of Sexton was badly missed, even if Paddy Jackson performed solidly as his replacement.

Stander had started in brutish fashion, being held up over the Kiwi tryline, before Israel Dagg’s shoulder ended his evening, sending him for a HIA which he didn’t return from.

As for Henshaw, such a standout in Chicago, his presence in midfield was sorely missed. With Ireland playing in such a direct manner, Henshaw’s ability to do something a little bit different – his pirouettes and footwork – might have made the difference.

Peyper and his TMO

It’s always highly disappointing to be discussing the match officials after a rugby game, but it’s impossible to ignore in this case.

Jaco Peyper shows Malakai Fekitoa a yellow card Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The theories of the All Blacks getting away with murder in terms of their discipline are generally overplayed, though it was hard to see referee Jaco Peyper as anything but lenient towards the Kiwis this evening.

Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa deserved their yellow cards, but the All Blacks almost certainly should have had a third player in the sin bin for 10 minutes. A blatant penalty under their own posts at scrum time in the first half stands out, although there were other high tackles and an accumulation of 14 penalties in total.

The TMO, Jon Mason, earned the wrath of Ireland’s supporters by confirming that Beauden Barrett had grounded the ball for his try, even when it looked distinctly questionable.

Ireland were aggrieved Sam Cane was not carded for the high tackle that saw Robbie Henshaw stretchered off concussed. It would be fascinating to see Joe Schmidt’s referee’s report after this contest.

Barrett’s class

In a game of huge men smashing into each other over and over again, Barrett was a difference maker.

The Hurricanes out-half had a key hand in all three of the All Blacks’ tries. For the first, it was Barrett’s composed cross-field kick that landed the ball in Fekitoa’s hands, after the Kiwi forwards had pummelled their way to the Irish tryline.

Beauden Barrett tackled by Sean Cronin 19/11//2016 Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Barrett scored the second himself from a midfield scrum – a nightmare defensive position. It was the playmaker’s pure pace that outdid Conor Murray in this instance, as he put the accelerator down with Murray drifting across the pitch.

The third Kiwi try was finished by Fekitoa, and again Barrett was integrally involved as he threw a deft offload in a series of them, Anton Lienert-Brown and TJ Perenara also adding some class.

This Test match was utterly physical, but Barrett’s ability to slow the game down and see the opportunity was crucial.

Bright young sparks

It’s disapointment for Ireland overall, but there are positives in the dejection, as always.

Garry Ringrose was sprung from the bench with 70 minutes remaining – so much earlier than he might have hoped – and he looked totally at home on his second international cap.

Garry Ringrose with Anton Lienert-Brown Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Clearly unfazed by playing the best team in the world, he carried at the All Blacks with aggression, picking his usual intelligent lines and fighting into good positions to present the ball to his team-mates.

The 21-year-old made an eye-watering 18 carries for Ireland, totalling 44 metres gained, while also hammering into eight strong tackles on the defensive side of the coin.

Josh van der Flier was similarly thrust into the action at an early stage – replacing the concussed Stander after 22 minutes – and he too thrived. Schmidt is likely to be frustrated by a loose offload in the Kiwi 22, but van der Flier was excellent.

The 23-year-old carried 14 times for 54 metres of gains on his fourth cap, including one linebreak, although he wasn’t as busy as Ringrose defensively.

Both of these young men look like being impressive Test players for Ireland for years to come.

Australia await

The mini-series with the All Blacks came to a brutal end this evening, and with Ireland having achieved more than was expected.

Schmidt’s men have underlined that they are among the best teams in the world, even if there remain important improvements to make in certain areas. Next up, Michael Chieka’s Wallabies.

Sean O'Brien dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland have injury worries over Sexton, Stander, Henshaw, Rob Kearney [also a head injury] and possibly more men after what was an incredibly attritional contest with the Kiwis, meaning that there may be changes on the way.

Even if everyone does come through fit, it might make sense for Schmidt to mix it up after his frontliners spent so much emotional and physical energy in these two Tests against the All Blacks.

There is no sense whatsoever that Schmidt will use the Australia game to experiment, but the likes of Peter O’Mahony and Keith Earls will be chomping at the bit for an opportunity in green.

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Murray Kinsella

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