Game Over

Analysis: 15 minutes where everything fell apart for Ireland

The All Blacks scored three tries in a whirlwind passage of pain for Andy Farrell’s side.

IT WAS ALL going swimmingly until it suddenly wasn’t.

Ireland had started strongly at Eden Park, producing an excellent team try finished by Keith Earls. There was variety in their attack as Johnny Sexton sprinkled clever kicks into their game and Andy Farrell’s men looked composed.

The All Blacks responded with a clinical score of their own dotted down by Jordie Barrett to push 7-5 in front but this had all the signs of being a close-fought Test in which Ireland would push the home side all the way. It had the makings of a classic.

And then arse completely fell out of it.

james-lowe-kieran-treadwell-josh-van-der-flier-andrew-porter-and-james-ryan-dejected-after-the-game Ireland are 1-0 down in their series against New Zealand. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland went through a deeply damaging 15-minute spell before half time in which they conceded three further tries to the ruthless New Zealanders to leave them trailing 28-5. There was no coming back from that. It ended with a 42-19 defeat.

There was a whole medley of reasons for this passage of capitulation, which essentially decided the game.

From Ireland’s point of view: sloppy handling errors, a head injury to captain Johnny Sexton, some questionable decision-making, coming out on the wrong side of referee Karl Dickson’s calls, and a hint of lethargy.

The Kiwis, meanwhile, were rewarded for their defensive quality, several strong decisions in attack, and even some dark arts at the breakdown.

With the All Blacks having pushed into the lead through Jordie Barrett’s try, Ireland were determined to respond instantly.

They began that mission sharply as Hugo Keenan chased Sexton’s contestable restart and forced a knock-on from Scott Barrett.

This midfield scrum was a prime platform for Ireland to strike off.


Instead, Ireland showed inaccuracy in their attack to turn the ball over.


Jamison Gibson-Park runs a loop play around Sexton before moving the ball to Ringrose, whose pass is out in front of wing James Lowe, who knocks it on into touch.

New Zealand defended superbly during these 15 minutes before half-time and this is one good example.

We see below that Beauden Barrett reacts instantly to Ireland attacking the Kiwis’ right-hand side, as he swings across at speed to insert himself into the defence.


Scrum-half Aaron Smith also does a good job of fighting out past Sexton, who looks to bump him to create disconnection in the defensive line.

While Barrett and Smith are working hard on his inside, All Blacks centre Quinn Tupaea intelligently eases off his linespeed and actually begins to move backwards – buying Barrett and Smith more time.


Ringrose is hoping to sit Tupaea down here, but Barrett gets across into a position to tackle Ringrose, allowing Tupaea to shift one man out. 


Ringrose has fullback Keenan swinging up on his outside shoulder but opts for the wider pass to Lowe, who clearly isn’t expecting the ball.

Ringrose’s pass is obviously forced in this instance although he might feel Lowe needed to be flatter and more alert to the possibility of the skip pass. Either way, it’s a frustrating miss for Ireland from what was a promising attacking position.

Less than two minutes later, Ireland turn the ball over in attack out on the left again although this error comes after Farrell’s men string together some promising phases as they find the kind of shape that caused the All Blacks major problems last autumn.

Again, the Kiwis’ defence is impressive.


Brodie Retallick’s tackle on Ringrose above is a crucial one after Scott Barrett jockeys off the Ireland centre.

Retallick initially has to worry about Josh van der Flier’s decoy run in midfield…


… before recovering out to get to Ringrose as Barrett opts not to deal with the Ireland centre.


It’s an excellent bit of defending from Retallick and then Barrett produces a better decision in the next instant, opting against having a jackal attempt at the breakdown.

It’s certainly tempting for Barrett to compete here by swinging his feet back in behind the tackle and jackaling…


… but he recognises that Peter O’Mahony is in close proximity to clear him out and also that the All Blacks need bodies in the defensive line for the next phase.

Barrett stands off and pushes Sevu Reece wider in the defensive line as he fills into the pillar slot alongside the breakdown.


Now Reece can get out to Robbie Henshaw as Gibson-Park passes to the Irish centre close to the left touchline.

Kiwi wing Reece produces a powerful initial hit on Henshaw and then Beauden Barrett bites in from outside to target the ball, while Scott Barrett also arrives into the contest.


As we see above, Henshaw loses control of the ball as he comes to ground and it bobbles off Sexton’s foot and into touch.

The All Blacks have defended well over the course of eight phases here, but it’s another soft turnover from Ireland in a good position. While these turnovers might not directly result in chances for New Zealand, they are damaging in the overall picture.

The sudden trend concludes disastrously for Ireland in the very next passage of play as Reece scores his intercept try.

The All Blacks actually lose possession from the lineout maul that follows Henshaw’s error, with Andrew Porter snaffling the loose ball and allowing Ireland to attack again.

They threaten wide on the right but then Sexton takes a blow to the head as he trips going into contact.


Ireland maintain possession, however, and continue to carry at New Zealand as Sexton regains his feet and plays a pass to Keenan, who throws a loose offload that Henshaw does well to gather.

On the next phase, Ireland concede as another attacking error gives Reece a long-range tap-in.


Sexton is back at first receiver here – just before he departs for his failed HIA – and he fires a pass out the back of Tadhg Beirne to Ringrose, who is clearly expecting the ball to arrive with less power and closer to his body.

As Ringrose juggles the ball, Lowe outside him slips and is then unable to recover to reel in Ringrose’s late pop pass. The ball bounces up perfectly for Reece to accelerate away.

Sexton’s pass is not ideal for Ringrose, though the out-half may have wanted his centre to come forward onto it a little more. These are the kind of ‘fine margins’ so often mentioned by players and coaches. Sexton’s pass is marginally off and Ringrose would love to have that ball back, simply holding onto it rather than throwing the late pass.

It’s a calamity for Ireland and this error has consequences to the tune of seven points and a 14-5 lead for the All Blacks.

With Sexton having departed for a HIA he wouldn’t return from, Farrell’s side needed to steady the ship before half-time but instead they invited more pain.

In the 33rd minute, an excellent counter-ruck effort from van der Flier helps to produce an Irish penalty near the halfway line and it looks like a great chance to kick deep into the All Blacks’ half and attack from a lineout.

Instead, Gibson-Park opts to tap the penalty.


Most of Gibson-Park’s team-mates aren’t on the same page and many are standing still in anticipation of a linekick, although Ringrose wide on the right is alive to the possible opportunity.

There is space down the right as All Blacks fullback Jordie Barrett is not in the backfield after carrying the ball on the previous phase. 


Gibson-Park swings the ball wide to Ringrose and then signals for the centre to kick the ball into the space beyond the covering Beauden Barrett.


Ringrose opts to hold onto the ball, however, and is tackled five metres outside the Kiwi 22, so still behind where a kick to touch might have left Ireland positioned.

Ireland carry infield once and then New Zealand’s defence comes up trumps once again to ensure yet another Irish turnover on the next phase.


It’s a thunderous tackle from Ofa Tu’ungafasi on opposite number Tadhg Furlong to dislodge the ball and force the knock-on.

The All Blacks tighthead deserves huge credit for his physicality here but it’s obviously a very frustrating moment for Furlong, who is usually so secure in possession.

This turnover sparks a kick battle and New Zealand come out with a dominant win in this particular contest as they leave a fatigued-looking Ireland with a midfield ruck close to their 22.

Ireland lack composure in building towards a strong exit kick and Gibson-Park launches a poor box kick that barely travels upfield.


While Carbery manages to regather the ball, this is instantly a dangerous situation for Ireland.

Their reaction, though, is lethargic and allows New Zealand to win yet another turnover as they counter-ruck aggressively.


Carbery is wrapped up by Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock and though he gets a knee to ground to ensure it’s a completed tackle, the players around him are slow to react. Porter does arrive at the breakdown but James Ryan and Dan Sheehan are actually moving away from the threat.


Porter is unable to win the contest against the counter-rucking Tupaea and Savea instantly recognises the chance as Aaron Smith encourages him to follow in.

As Sheehan reacts belatedly, Retallick stoops to collect the ball and offloads to George Bower.

90 seconds after Gibson-Park’s quick tap, the All Blacks are attacking close to Ireland’s 22.

On the next phase, Jordie Barrett rolls a grubber kick down the left into touch and though he’s unhappy with his own decision and execution, it leaves Ireland with a high-pressure lineout 10 metres from their own tryline.

O’Mahony wins the lineout to set up an Irish maul but then Gibson-Park is turned over.


Gibson-Park has Caelan Doris and Henshaw infield to his left ready to carry, setting up a ruck from which Ireland can launch their exit kick.

However, the Ireland scrum-half opts to run from the maul himself. His decision is based on Tu’ungafasi committing into the maul and leaving space on the fringe.


Gibson-Park darts away and looks to use his footwork to step past Codie Taylor but the All Blacks hooker completes his tackle.

As that’s happening, Kiwi skipper Sam Cane subtly impedes Doris from getting to the breakdown…


… which helps to buy another split second for Savea to jackal over the ball.


Taylor bounces back to his feet and helps to anchor Savea into position to complete the turnover before the rest of the Kiwi forwards track back to help clear out what is now their attacking ruck.


It ends up being a very slow ruck lasting more than 15 seconds but Ireland are unable to get their defence organised to prevent the Kiwis from scoring on the very next phase.

New Zealand are very clever in recognising the opportunity.

While Whitelock attempts to tag as many Irishmen into the ruck as possible, clinging onto Porter as we can see below…


… out-half Beauden Barrett and his fellow backs are scanning the pitch for their opportunity to strike.

The chance shows up in Ireland’s backfield, which is entirely open.

Gibson-Park, who often covers space in behind, is obviously on the ground at the bottom of the ruck.


Right wing Keith Earls is concerned about the Kiwis attacking into the shortside, so he stays in the frontline there, while fullback Keenan is wide on Ireland’s left to cover the possible cross-kick to Reece.

It means there’s no one at home for Ireland and Barrett has a decent margin for error in putting the ball behind the onrushing frontline defence.

His grubber kick is beautifully weighted for Tupaea to race onto, gather, and score.


Gibson-Park’s decisions on the quick tap and this dart off the maul clearly did not work out for Ireland in this game.

And yet, Ireland head coach Farrell is a fan of Gibson-Park’s unpredictable edge. He is keen for the scrum-half to play instinctively and throw unexpected challenges at defences. Gibson-Park will learn from these moments, of course, and Farrell will attempt to ensure the halfback doesn’t lose confidence in his creativity, while also offering balance.

Now 21-5 down with four minutes left until the break, Ireland urgently need to stem the tide and deliver a solid response to their latest setback.

Instead, they concede a penalty from the restart.

Smith is setting up for a box kick when Ireland lock Ryan races forward to grab the ball from the back of the ruck.


Ryan is usually a very disciplined player so it is an unusual-looking incident.

The reason Ryan races forward is that he has seen Smith using his left hand to slightly roll the ball backwards along the ground before setting up for his kick.


Scrum-halves are not allowed to use their hands in this manner when setting up for kicks. If they are going to move the ball back through a ruck, it has to be done with their feet. This is a very subtle roll from Smith but it’s a roll with his hand nonetheless.

The issue for Ryan is that referee Karl Dickson hasn’t seen it or perhaps doesn’t feel it constituted a roll by Smith, meaning he instantly awards the Kiwis a penalty.

“He used his hands!” protests Ryan and Dickson simply responds, “Ask the question, ask the question.”

In this kind of instance, players do often ask the referee if the ball is out before rushing forward and Ryan may reflect that he could have done that here, but it is a hugely frustrating one for him given that Smith did play the ball with his hand. It’s fair game.

What the penalty means is that the Kiwis have one more attacking chance in Ireland’s half before the interval. They turn it into seven points.

It’s Smith’s break that creates the opportunity.


The All Blacks scrum-half strikes cleverly just after Dickson awards New Zealand penalty advantage for Porter’s failure to roll clear from his tackle on Retallick.

Scott Barrett has a big influence in creating the opening for Smith.

First, he ensures that Porter can’t roll away from his poor landing position post-tackle.


And then Barrett grabs onto assist tackler van der Flier to ensure that he can’t get back to his feet to defend the next phase.


With Barrett focusing on not releasing van der Flier, Porter is able to lift his upper body clear of the ball and Smith spots his chance in the space where van der Flier likely would have been if Barrett hadn’t held him down.


As we can see above, van der Flier does make a move to appeal to Dickson as he heads for a TMO review of the score, but he is waved away and doesn’t actually get his protest in.

It’s fair to say that Ireland have benefitted from plenty of breakdown dart arts themselves in the past but Barrett’s intervention here is important.

As the play unfolds, Beirne and Sheehan on either side of the breakdown appear to feel that van der Flier will get back to his feet to occupy that space and they are unable to scrag Smith as the Kiwi scrum-half snipes.

Smith’s chip over the head of fullback Keenan is excellent.


Although Earls makes a strong effort to track back, referee Dickson and his TMO rule that Smith bats the ball backwards and it falls kindly for Savea to flop on it for the All Blacks’ fourth try.

With Jordie Barrett converting, the Kiwis lead 28-5 at the break and it’s as good as game over.

Either side of this hellish 15-minute spell, Ireland played a fair bit of good rugby in Auckland. They must now hope that a more complete performance next weekend in Dunedin can deliver their first-ever win against the All Blacks on Kiwi soil.

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