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Dublin: 5°C Friday 5 March 2021
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Summer Tour Diary: Outnumbered 15 to 1 yet all you could hear were Irish voices

Jonathan Sexton admitted that he needed to strike his late penalty perfectly for Ireland to lead. He did not but was excellent otherwise.

Sexton watches his 72nd minute kick fall short.
Sexton watches his 72nd minute kick fall short.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

IRELAND ON TOP as the game goes into the final 10 minutes. A penalty is awarded. Sexton steps up. It all seems so familiar.

The scenario that ended up in Dan Carter clinching an All Black win with virtually the last kick of the game is one Irish fans have seen before this season.

74 minutes gone against Wales in the Six Nations and Jonathan Sexton had the chance to put Ireland 24-15 up. The effort comes up short and the Welsh get a last-minute penalty to win.

It was 72 minutes showing on the big screen as Israel Dagg trudged to the sin-bin after a wild, late hit on Rob Kearney.

Sexton had kicked five from five and the penalty was from Dagg had launched an initial up and under – 49 metres out.

Deja vu

Jonny backed himself and no-one was arguing.

“I probably needed to strike it 100% for it to go over in those conditions,” he told TheScore.ie. “It was a cold night and a 50-metre kick, even longer on the angle, so I knew I had to hit it absolutely perfectly for it to go over.” Sexton added:

They are the type of kicks that you have to step up and take but I didn’t catch it perfectly.

“It wasn’t the worst strike I’ve ever made; it was on target but just a metre and a bit short.”

Sexton cut a disconsolate figure after the 22-19 match but that must be expected from a perfectionist.

His 80 minute shift was immaculate, save for that miss and a needless chip into the arms of Dagg in the first half.

For Sexton that means room for improvement but the out-half was Ireland’s most dynamic backline player.

Peter O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan reflect on another harrowing defeat. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)

A rare aul’ sight

If Sexton was the pick of the backs, there was close competition for heroes in the front eight.

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Cian Healy chewed up both Franks brothers, Owen and Ben, Jamie Heaslip was immense – taking up the charge on countless occasions – as was Sean O’Brien, while Donnacha Ryan showed us the brutal bite the Irish second row was missing for so long.

Kevin McLaughlin was excellent and took the All Black runners around the ankles, while Peter O’Mahony was a rabble-rousing replacement.

The All Black pack was getting shunted backwards in the final quarter and it was a rousing sight to see the black scrum reel as Steve Hansen’s assistant coaches wiped the steam off the viewing boxes.

It made Nigel Owens’ decision to award that penalty for a whipped scrum, just as Ireland had their merciless tormentors in the cross-hairs, seem all the more unjust.

The fans

A sizeable Irish community lives and works in the Auckland area and many seats were block-booked in green for the first Test at Eden Park.

The smaller, 21,000 capacity at Rugby League Park in Christchurch did not allow for such luxuries so Irish supporters had to content themselves with pockets of seats across the ground. And how they cheered their team on.

Even by a conservative effort they were outnumbered 15 to one, yet their voices were heard bellowing their team in support around the same time home-town hero Dan Carter was being hissed for skewing a drop goal wide.

Carter and Dagg were amazed by the away support and paid credit to the Irish in Christchurch afterwards. Fans and players alike did themselves proud.

Next week

Can Ireland – a team that has suffered more shots to the solar plexus than can be deemed medically advisable - win next week?

It will almost certainly be the last chance for Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara, but the pair have astounded us before.

‘Why not?’ is the short answer.

Ireland are closer to the team that took to the field on Saturday that the startled hares that were annihilated in the the first Test.

If they can rouse themselves for one last, dogged effort they can boast that they well and truly softened the All Blacks up for the kill.

*You can follow all the latest news, comments and goings on from the Irish camp by following @patmccarry on Twitter and by regularly checking in with TheScore.ie.

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