GLIMPSES of hope, but when it comes to international rugby, hope is a very dangerous fuel to be running your engines on.
When Keith Earls skipped and danced his way over the All Black try line on the fifth minute, the level of optimism for all those who supported the men in green probably went up a good 20%. Given New Zealand’s pedigree and ability to turn nothing into seven points in the blink of an eye, it won’t take long for that dream to turn into a nightmare.
That is exactly what happened on Saturday morning for Ireland.
Just like the Maori All Blacks game on Wednesday, this was basically over by halftime. Ireland must have sat in their dressing room wondering what the hell just happened.
After 20 minutes it was 5-0 to Ireland. The steely persona that the Irish players had etched into their faces as they walked onto the hallowed turf of Eden Park was a cheque they were able to cash for the opening quarter; what happened over the next 20 minutes will haunt Ireland for the remainder of this tour.
Four converted tries in 18 minutes by the All Blacks left the Irish players scratching their heads and even though they kept on plugging away and never gave up, they now appreciate what playing rugby in the harshest of environments is all about.
When Ireland beat New Zealand in Dublin at the tail end of 2021 they did so on the back of a performance that I would describe as the best ever from any Irish team. On that day they played with a kind of tempo that New Zealand found impossible to cope with. And everything went their way.
At that time New Zealand were at the end of a very long season and Ireland just ran them off the field. Here the tables were turned and the big issue now is that Sam Cane and his players will only get better over the next two weeks.
Touring New Zealand is often referred to as the tour from hell. Even though Andy Farrell has been there before, if he doesn’t plan the next two weeks with a strong level of shrewdness, not only will all the good work that the Irish players have achieved over the last few seasons be eroded away, but the future will also be massively affected.
Apart from dealing with the backlash from all the external influences like the media and the rugby-mad home supporters, Farrell must hope that some of the injuries that his players have picked up over the last seven days are not as bad as they seem.
Once again Sexton took another blow to the head and was forced to leave the field. Why the Leinster man was ever selected to travel in the first place is a complete mystery to me. I will be amazed if we see him again on this tour.
Please never be fooled by the hype regarding the importance of these end-of-year events in terms of rugby progression. They are only put in place to fill the coffers of the hosting nations and make your Sky subscription seem like a good investment.
On a positive note, Ireland will be able to review the video footage of this game and hone in on the fact that they scored three tries and did so as a reward for sustained pressure.
Every time Ireland gained entry to New Zealand’s 22 they either scored or came very close to doing so and this is no mean feat when you are playing against the best the game has to offer.
In fact, were it not for some incredible defensive work by centre Rieko Ioane and the home side's backrow, the final score line might not have looked so bad but, there is no way Ireland were ever going to win this game because the All Blacks had at least two more gears to call upon if the need arose.
I guess it is sad to say at this point that all Ireland can do now is look at ways of implementing some damage limitation procedures and hope that their injury count isn’t greatly increased.
New Zealand may be a beautiful country, but I can guarantee you that the Irish players will be so glad to see it fade away when their plane lifts off for home in two weeks.