Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was heartbroken. His captain Paul O'Connell was disconsolate. They knew just how close they'd come to carving one of those pieces of Irish rugby history that would one day be immortalised on stage and screen.
The Irish were seconds from completing a remarkable victory over the All Blacks yesterday - their first in 108 years of games between the two countries - but as is the way with this luckless race, the fates conspired against them.
First, a Jonny Sexton penalty miss, then a late infringement in possession with time almost up, handed the All Blacks a reprieve, then a chance. The clinical execution of the world champions did the rest, with even Aaron Cruden getting a second crack at his match-winning conversion.
Schmidt, a Kiwi, was proud as punch afterwards. And almost inconsolable.
"I guess you sum it up as a step forward but a missed opportunity, and you don't get that many opportunities to play the All Blacks, and certainly not too many opportunities to stop them doing something pretty special," he said.
"Fourteen games out 14 is pretty phenomenal and if we'd been the only ones to knock them over it would have been a feather in the lads' caps.
"The defence at the end is massively disappointing but it's cumulative. I felt we were hanging on by a thread and the thread was just a little too thin to stop them." Schmidt couldn't even summon a protest about the decision to allow Cruden his second crack at the conversion because of an early charge.
"It's not particularly relevant to us," he said solemnly. "A draw was as good as a loss to us today. We haven't won in 108 years of trying against those guys and there has been a draw before. We didn't want to do what had been done before. "We just came up short, and that's massively disappointing, especially when with a minute to go we were in possession in their half and we weren't quite able to finish that off.
"It's more disappointing than last week. It's great to have an improved performance, but it was all about getting that and the result, and we're devastated not to get the result." O'Connell said he had been confident even when his team coughed up the late penalty they could contain the All Blacks from more than 60 metres out.
"We're very disappointed, and frustrated as well," said the Irish skipper who had a big game up front. "But you've got to give credit to them and their character. They've had some tight games in recent times and to stay calm, cool and collected and get over the line is a credit to them."
- Fairfax Media
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