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All Blacks win freezing test against Ireland but fans still cool

All Blacks win freezing test against Ireland but fans still cool

The All Blacks overcame subzero temperatures and driving rain to beat Ireland 21-11 in Saturday's one-off rugby test.
For some players and for coach Graham Henry, the wintry weather was nothing compared to the cold shoulder from fans that they had endured since last October's World Cup quarterfinal loss to France.
Barely 25,000 spectators turned out for the match at Westpac Stadium, the smallest crowd in years for a test against a major nation. Some were kept away by the bitter cold but many more had turned their backs on the All Blacks since that Cardiff quarterfinal and in protest at the New Zealand Rugby Union's decision to retain Henry as coach.
New Zealand went into Saturday's match hoping for a win which would rekindle their support and win back the fans, but the conditions turned the match into a grind rather than a confidence booster.
Ireland played an effective kicking game and the All Blacks spent much of the match trying to decide how best to respond. They had to curb their instinctive running game, which was unfeasible in the conditions, to concentrate on a more simple, forward-based style.
When they put that into practice late in the second half, they gained a slight superiority which delivered the win.
The All Blacks scored two tries, a counterattacking effort in the first half finished by winger Sitiveni Sivivatu, and another from a break by flyhalf Daniel Carter which ended with center Ma'a Nonu sliding over.
Much of the All Blacks' play between those two tries was poor. Their lack of decisive direction kept the Irish in the match until the last quarter when Nonu's try and Carter's kicking eased them to victory.
The Irish played little rugby _ almost every ball that passed through the hands of flyhalf Ronan O'Gara was kicked, but that was a sensible tactic in conditions which made ball handling risky.
"As much as we fought to the death, it's hugely disappointing to come so close again," Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said.
"We were three points down at that stage (before Nonu's try) so a seven-pointer and it essentially killed the game off. It was a liability having the ball at times. It's not often you play games like that."
The manner of the All Blacks' win would have done little to allay fans concerns, diminish cynicism over Henry's reappointment or build optimism for the immediate future. At best, the poor conditions meant judgment would be reserved until they face England in the first of two tests next weekend.
On Sunday, New Zealand was forced to call uncapped Canterbury Crusaders prop Ben Franks into their squad for the England test as a replacement for John Afoa, who suffered a medial ligament injury.
"I thought the forwards played particularly well at the set piece and had the better of the forward battle which is a major achievement because the Irish side had a lot of caps and was a very experienced pack," Henry said. "I'm proud of the way they hung in in difficult conditions and did the job."


Updated : 2021-03-06 10:59 GMT+08:00