'Freakish' Carter defies Irish
OPINION: Lessons 1, 2 and 3: the Irish are no gumboots, the All Blacks can be a complacent lot and Dan Carter is still a freak.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen wasn't wrong when he laconically produced this gem on Saturday night: "What a difference a week makes, eh?"
Ireland's performance at AMI Stadium, when compared with their 42-10 defeat at Eden Park in the first test, was magnificent.
Gone were the aimless kicks and lethargic chasers, and the soggy defensive lines that had been so easily penetrated by the All Blacks' bold counter-attackers were this time laced with steel.
Ireland deserved to win and appeared destined to at least draw until the ice-cool Carter severed their hopes with his left-foot dropped goal.
The kick was low, flat and unattractive, but when it slid through the sticks Hansen must have been tempted to blow him a kiss.
Now, as he prepares for the third test in Hamilton, the All Blacks boss will be asking some serious questions of his team.
Why did it take until the final six minutes to rediscover their ruthlessness and rage when carrying the ball deep into Ireland's half? Why didn't they switch tactics earlier and kick for territory when Ireland were never going to stop building their defensive wall?
Errors were costly and captain Richie McCaw was among the culprits. He toiled manfully as usual but his handling was poor.
We are still waiting to see Owen Franks fire this season.
If Ali Williams hadn't already departed because of a knee injury Hansen would have surely hammered him about his daft attempt to block Eoin Reddan at a ruck.
Hansen brought Williams into the squad for his experience. The second-rower repaid him with some ill-discipline that earned the Irish a crucial penalty.
At least some excuses could be made for fullback srael Dagg after his reckless charge on Rob Kearney. Dagg has played 61 fewer tests than Williams and is seven years his junior.
The New Zealanders' confidence was dented in other areas.
Their scrum was given a rugged examination – they could be counted fortunate to earn the penalty in the dying minutes when referee Nigel Owens ruled Ireland wheeled the scrum – and Julian Savea learnt the Irish have one potent emotion. It's called pride.
The Irish held the ball patiently in attack and diligently chased halfback Conor Murray's clever box kicks. The result was Savea, the three-try hero from the first test, went missing after his early fumbles.
With captain Brian O'Driscoll leading the charge at centre, Ireland often used a rush-defence system that dramatically reduced space from set plays.
O'Driscoll's habit of sprinting slightly ahead of D'Arcy and then quickly racing back into the line disrupted the flow of ball to wings Savea and Zac Guildford, and Sonny Bill Williams never got the space he so welcomed in Auckland.
Carter, in the end, saved the day.
He refused to be rattled by his two earlier dropped-goal misses. It was third time lucky. That is not a statement the All Blacks will want to hear from the Irish after the Hamilton test.
- © Fairfax NZ News