Dan Carter kicks a last-minute drop kick to hand New Zealand a 2-0 lead in the Test series. (Image | The Guardian)

Ireland looked to bounce back from their 42-10 drubbing against the All Blacks last week, with Declan Kidney making four changes to the team that was resoundingly beaten in the first Test.

Andrew Trimble replaced Simon Zebo on the wing, Gordon D’Arcy returned to the centre in place of the injured Keith Earls, fit-again Mike Ross came in for Declan Fitzpatrick in the front row, and Kevin McLaughlin swapped for Peter O’Mahony at blindside flanker. Jamie Heaslip led Ireland out on his 50th cap. Nigel Owens was the referee for this encounter, as strict as ever at the breakdown which would be the key to this game.

The Irish scored the first points of the game, prop Ben Franks penalised for going off his feet at a ruck to give Sexton the chance to put the ball into the corner for the lineout. Rory Best threw to Donnacha Ryan, and good recycing by Ireland saw them reach the All Blacks try line. Munster man Conor Murray touched down from the back of the ruck, evading Tony Woodcock to get the first try of the game. Sexton converted to give Ireland a 7-0 lead after ten minutes.

Collisions at the breakdown exemplified the intensity from both teams, with Ireland far more competitive in this area than they were last week. Half back pairing Murray and Sexton displayed a good kicking game, with Ireland’s kick chase causing problems for the Kiwis. Rory Best was almost an extra back row player, as he got over Richie McCaw to earn Ireland a penalty for holding on.

Jonathan Sexton helped run the Kiwis close in Christchurch, kicking a penalty to put Ireland into an early 10-0 lead. (Image | ESPN Scrum)

The Irish extended their lead to 10-0 with a Sexton penalty, however shortly after Best was again penalised for an offside which allowed Dan Carter to kick a penalty for the All Blacks’ first three points of the game.

Perhaps tiring due to their immense work rate, Ireland began to leak needless penalties, two of which were slotted by Carter to bring the Kiwis a point behind. A minute before half-time, Irish wing Fergus McFadden was penalised for going off his feet at the breakdown. Carter had the chance to put New Zealand ahead going into the break, but his kick from within his own half fell just short of the posts.

Kieran Read was taken off at half time, and in his place came on young Sam Caine, a highly-rated back rower, regarded as McCaw’s successor as an out-and-out 7. The All Blacks scored first after the break, Aaron Smith carried over by supporting team-mates to touch down. Owens gave the try after consulting with his TMO, before Carter converted from the far-right touchline.

The physicality from both teams continued apace in the second-half. Adam Thomson, feeling the effects of a wrong body position while tackling Heaslip, was penalised for not rolling away. Sexton kicked the penalty to make it 16-13. From the resulting restart, McCaw jumped for the ball and drove his knees into D’Arcy’s back in mid-air conceding a penalty. In the same passage of play, Brian O’Driscoll took an elbow to face from one of his own players at the bottom of a ruck.

Murray again made a good box kick with the ball taken by Carter, who was then smothered by Irish chasers, forcing a turnover, typifying the phenomenal Irish work rate in this game. On 50 minutes D’Arcy hobbled off, with Ronan O’Gara replacing him. Sexton moved to 12, with O’Gara at fly half. Both team defences were outstanding, proving hard to breach. Near the hour mark this was exemplified by Carter attempting a left footed drop goal that hardly left the ground.

New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and Ireland’s Cian Healy clash as both sides went for the win in the second half. (Image | Zimbio)

Soon after, Sonny Bill Williams and Cian Healy “said hello” to one another, before another Carter penalty made it 19-13. With tired bodies on both sides, changes were made. Ireland blindside McLaughlin replaced by Peter O’Mahony. The Irish front row earned their team a penalty at scrum time, giving Sexton a shot at goal in front of the posts to take Ireland within three points of their opponents at 19-16. With little over 15 minutes to go, he duly converted.

A change at scrumhalf for both sides saw Conor Murray off for Eoin Reddan and Piri Weepu on for Steve Smith. Ireland turned the ball over, leading to a break by Sexton who put in a grubber kick to pressure New Zealand with a line out deep in their own 22.

Heaslip was consistently rampant, with strong carries displaying his excellent work rate, clattering into Thomson, not for the first time, drawing blood from the nose of the blindside flanker, which he broke just 10 days ago in training.

With 12 minutes to go after another great carry by Healy, Ali Williams was penalised for an offence, giving Sexton a chance to make the score level with a kick at goal which went over to make it 19-19, setting up a thrilling finish to the game. On 72 minutes, Israel Dagg was sent to the bin for following through with a late body charge on Rob Kearney, a needless challenge which Dagg could have pulled out of, leaving his team a man down for the remainder of the game.

Sexton’s resulting penalty, just in front of the halfway line, fell agonizingly short of the posts, keeping the score at 19-19 in this fantastic game. Five minutes to go and Ireland were penalised on their own scrum in New Zealand’s 22 for the back row and second row illegally running the scrum round, giving possession back to the Kiwis. The final two minutes saw Carter go for a drop goal but Sean O’Brien got finger tips to the ball, seeing it go wide of the posts.

However, it provided New Zealand with a scrum five metres out from the Irish line. From the scrum the ball reached Carter who snatched at a drop goal, possibly the ugliest of his career, but one that still managed to go over. And thus a fully deserved draw was stolen from the Irish, a cruel blow which made it 22-19 at full-time.

A truly great Test match, and one that secures a Series victory for the All Blacks. Healy and Heaslip consistently carried, and were superb along with the rest of the pack, while O’Driscoll was as involved as always. Ireland will use this performance, a great improvement from the first Test, to motivate themselves for the final game.

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