Christchurch – New Zealand snatched a 22-19 victory over Ireland with a desperate 79th minute goal by Dan Carter as a bruising rugby Test reached a nail-biting finish in Christchurch on Saturday.
The All Blacks were reduced to 14 men in the closing 10 minutes and were playing a lock at flanker, before sealing the win to take a 2-0 lead in the three-match series and preserve a 107-year unbeaten record against Ireland.
“It's a game we probably shouldn't have won, but the character of the team came through,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.
Six minutes from time, Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton had a chance to create history with the scores locked at 19-all but his optimistic 50-metre penalty fell short.
That gave the All Blacks a chance to sweep back downfield – aided by Ireland conceding a scrum penalty – where Carter had one drop goal attempt deflected in flight by Ireland before he snapped over the winner.
Hansen blamed the closeness of the result on too many unforced errors by his side.
“I'd like to give Ireland a big pat on the back. They played with a lot of conviction, a lot of energy and a lot of urgency,” he said.
“We certainly didn't play as well as we would have liked but we showed some really special character to hang in there and win the game with a drop goal.”
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll struggled to talk about the outcome.
“You're level on the board, and then they were a man down for the last seven or eight minutes, so it's difficult to see the positives.
“The fact we've got one more go next week is definitely a positive.”
A sell-out 21,000 crowd gathered for the match, the first Test in Christchurch since a series of devastating earthquakes laid waste to much of the inner city in 2010 and last year.
The chilly conditions were not going to deter a city desperate for quality rugby, and the revved-up Irish forwards rocked the All Blacks.
It was a vastly improved Ireland side from that beaten 42-10 in the first Test a week ago and the All Blacks were rarely able to unleash wings Julian Savea and Zac Guildford, who had created havoc in that encounter.
Instead with Mike Ross restored to the front row, Ireland came out on top in the scrum, gaining the ascendancy after conceding the first set piece and pushing the All Black pack around from then on.
Following a period of sustained pressure which tested the All Blacks' defence, Ireland used their lineout as a platform to drive at the line before freeing the ball for scrum-half Conor Murray to dart over for a 10th-minute try.
Sexton added the conversion and a penalty to have Ireland 10-0 ahead before the All Blacks put their first points on the board through a Carter penalty.
As in the first Test, Ireland went off the boil after the opening 20 minutes and as the All Blacks' intensity grew the home side forced errors at the breakdown, closing the gap through penalties.
Ireland went in 10-9 ahead at half time, but the All Blacks unlocked the Irish defence when play resumed.
Sonny Bill Williams crashed into the Ireland pack and as the All Blacks piled in scrum-half Aaron Smith was driven over the line for the try.
Behind on the scoreboard for the first time, Ireland rallied with Sexton adding his second penalty in another strong attacking period that had the All Blacks scrambling to make try saving tackles.
But with that storm weathered, the momentum again swung the other way and Carter's fourth penalty extended the All Blacks' lead to 19-13.
Then Ireland came back with two more Sexton penalties levelling the scores.
Pressure mounted on New Zealand as Adam Thomson joined Kieran Read on the injured list, leaving them only two specialist loose forwards, and Israel Dagg was yellow-carded for a late charge on Rob Kearney.
But at 19-all and a man down, the All Blacks rallied one last time and Carter was there to seal the outcome. – Sapa-AFP