x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

All Blacks complete their perfect year, but only just

First win over New Zealand slips through Ireland's fingers at the death

New Zealand flanker Steve Luatua, center, is tackled by Ireland's David Kearney and Peter O'Mahony during their Test match in Dublin on Sunday. Peter Muhly / AFP
New Zealand flanker Steve Luatua, center, is tackled by Ireland's David Kearney and Peter O'Mahony during their Test match in Dublin on Sunday. Peter Muhly / AFP

Sean O’Brien admitted his bitter disappointment after Ireland suffered a crushing, added-time loss to New Zealand in Dublin.

The All Blacks came back from 19 points down on Sunday to claim a 24-22 victory, thanks to a last-gasp try from Ryan Crotty and a twice-taken conversion from Aaron Cruden.

It was a cruel conclusion to a strong performance by the Irish, whose long wait for a first win over New Zealand continues.

“We are not happy losing the game like that,” O’Brien said on BBC2. “We started so well and got such a lead. Not finishing them off, we have to have a long, hard look at ourselves and see where we can improve.

“They have that belief. That’s what we have to get to.

“I think there was a little bit of trust needed in the last couple of minutes. It’s just really, really disappointing. We have to assess [what happened] next time we get into camp together.”

Crotty’s try locked the score at 22-22 with the conversion to come, and fly-half Cruden fluffed the first kick, only to be handed a dramatic reprieve.

Because Ireland flew off their line before Cruden had started his run-up, referee Nigel Owens ordered a retake and the Kiwi playmaker delivered to put an end to Ireland’s chances of recording their first victory over New Zealand.

Instead, the All Blacks made professional-era history by completing an undefeated year.

Ireland blitzed a stunned New Zealand with three tries in 17 minutes; Conor Murray, Rory Best and Rob Kearney crossing in a superlative opening salvo.

But the world champions refused to buckle, with wing Julian Savea and prop Ben Franks notching tries to turn the tide.

Leading by five points, Ireland attempted to play out the clock in the final minute – only to concede a cheap ruck penalty.

New Zealand launched a trademark quick-flash attack, and after fine work from Kieran Read, Ma’a Nonu and Cruden, Crotty sneaked into the left corner to shatter Irish dreams of a first victory over the All Blacks in 28 meetings.

Ireland led 21-7 after 43 minutes in Dublin in 2001, but New Zealand came back to win 40-29.

Agonisingly, that pattern was repeated. The thunderclap of three first-quarter tries shook the All Blacks to their very core.

The grit so lacking from Ireland in a 32-15 loss to Australia last week was clear.

A grubber from O’Driscoll forced New Zealand into a knock-on in their 22. Dave Kearney cut in off his wing, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and O’Brien punched tight-drive holes and half-back Murray opened the scoring.

More quick passing allowed Best to dummy a ball and wriggle home for the home side’s second try. Dogged Ireland sustained the pressure, and when Israel Dagg failed to hold Cruden’s pass, Kearney pounced.

Then came the New Zealand comeback, capped by Cruden’s kick, to confirm the All Blacks’ place in history.