Written by Max Sharp.
They may have copped a hiding at Eden Park last week, but Andy Farrell's Ireland came back furious and played their hearts out to the crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin. Though many New Zealanders will be cross at four cards of either colour being dished out in the first half, Ireland deserved their win. Hanging on by 10-7 at half time, Ireland finished the job with a tactical masterclass to get a final score of 23-12, a deserving win margin. As I have respect to put on the names of our opponents, we'll read through jersey 1 through to 23 and see how Ireland performed in their mission to keep the series alive.
Ireland's captain Jonathan Sexton warms up off the tee. Photo: Max Sharp.
Ireland Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - Andrew Porter (10/10)
Porter had to convert from a tighthead, to become a regular starter for his country and it's paid off. Defended hard with 8 tackles, while performing well in the scrum and the breakdown. A full stat sheet, with 2 tries, 8 metres and 1 defender beaten from 4 carries, before coming off in the 64th minute. A Man of the Match Performance.
Hooker - Dan Sheehan (7/10)
Unusually tall for a hooker, but this doesn't affect Sheehan's game. For the second week in a row he went well, with 23 metres and 1 defender beaten off 6 carries; also making 4 passes, while his 12 tackles was a good amount for his team's 47% possession rate.
Tighthead Prop - Tadgh Furlong (7/10)
The number 3 is looking tired after a long season, but continues to do enough to hold his place as the world's best prop. Furlong was far better than last week, contributing 13 tackles, while he provided front-foot ball with quick ruck speed and 8 metres from 6 carries. Only error was his team's single scrum collapse.
Lock 4 - Tadgh Beirne (8/10)
Awful last week and had a point to prove, so came out firing immediately with a clean break ahead of Porter's first try. Beirne's running stats also showed 45 metres and 3 defenders beaten from 6 carries, while he made 7 passes, 1 offload, 12 tackles and demonstrated immense ruck speed. Stepped up wonderfully.
Lock 5 - James Ryan (5/10)
Quick to get to rucks, but perhaps a weak link elsewhere. Yellow-carded in the 39th minute for a high penalty count, while he was guilty of losing two lineouts. Though Ryan made 13 metres from 2 carries, 3 passes and 10 tackles, there's more to the game than stats.
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony (left) during an immense performance at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
Blindside Flanker - Peter O'Mahony (9/10)
"Stats aren't everything" is also backed up by O'Mahony's performance. His single turnover sealed the game and was followed up, somehow, by a 50-22 kick. Supplemented these moments with strong decoy runs that saw him make 6 passes and 2 offloads. 11 tackles too.
Openside Flanker - Josh van der Flier (8/10)
Solid performance for the number 7, who carried hard with 15 metres and 1 defender beaten off 5 carries. Spent a fair bit of time creating front-foot ball in the ruck, while he was the game's top tackler with 21/21 attempts. Won a turnover at one stage as well. Masterclass.
Number 8 - Caelan Doris (8/10)
With the All Blacks failing to man-mark Doris, it was surprising that he only made 13 metres and beat 1 defender from his 5 carries as a one-man pod. Decoyed well, making 7 passes and 1 offload, while his defence was incredible; 15 tackles and 2 turnovers made by Doris.
Halfback - Jamison Gibson-Park (7/10)
Given the luxury of strong front-foot ball by his forward pack, Gibson-Park was able to have plenty of options to pick-and-choose from. Contributed a small bit of defending as well, with 3 tackles and 1 turnover. Gibson-Park used this game to make a tutorial on game management.
First-Five - Jonathan Sexton (9/10)
Despite being just one day short of his 37th birthday, the fire remains bright in the old dog, who is still learning new tricks. Went himself for 30 metres, beating 1 defender and making a clean break off his 2 carries, while selecting the carriers perfectly in 27 passes. 8 tackles, whilst slotting all five of his shots at goal. Sexton was truly great in his 74 minutes.
Left Wing - James Lowe (3/10)
Terrible performance, confined to just 8 metres from 5 carries. Lowe attempted to get involved with 7 passes but these didn't work out. Though Lowe made all three of his tackle attempts, he was also punished for leaving space on his wing.
Second-Five - Robbie Henshaw (7/10)
Moved to centre in the 31st minute and didn't get too involved with the game, but succeeded in what he contributed. 7 metres off 5 carries is low for a back, though Henshaw's 7 passes enabled space for those outside him. Highest tackler of the backline, with 10/12.
Centre - Garry Ringrose (No rating)
Though Ringrose was on the pitch for 31 minutes until failing an HIA, he had only made 1 carry, 1 pass and 2 tackles before being substituted, so won't be rated.
Right Wing - Mack Hansen (6/10)
Hansen's return from COVID-19 opened the flood gates for a successful aerial assault, while we also saw 31 metres and 1 defender beaten from Hansen's 6 carries. Used as an extra distributor, making 2 passes and 1 offload, though 3 tackles could be improved on.
Ireland's fullback Hugo Keenan (right) directs the team during the 1st test. Photo: Max Sharp.
Fullback - Hugo Keenan (6/10)
The 26-year-old bought his kicking boots along and was able to outplay Beauden Barrett and Sevu Reece in the air, while the field was a bit more open, allowing Keenan to run 37 metres, beat 1 defender and make 1 clean break from 7 carries. Solid performance.
Reserve Hooker - Rob Herring (6/10)
Herring, born in South Africa, has found himself as Farrell's fourth-choice hooker after 10 years based in Ireland and 27 tests for them, though he began the World Cup cycle as the first-choice. His experience closed the game out well though, 4 strong tackles and a functional lineout.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Cian Healy (6/10)
Also bought valued experience off the bench, having toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2013. The scrum remained strong, while Healy had quick ruck speed and made 5 tackles in 16 minutes.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Finlay Bealham (6/10)
Having been named to play last week before withdrawing due to illness, a COVID-free Bealham came off the bench to make 1 pass, 1 offload and 5 tackles in the dying stages of this test.
Reserve Lock - Kieran Treadwell (No rating)
On for Ryan with 11 minutes left and made just 1 tackle, so won't be rated.
Ireland reserve Jack Conan (left) warms down after a test match. Photo: Max Sharp.
Reserve Loose Forward - Jack Conan (5/10)
Played the last 16 minutes and didn't make as much impact as last time, with 8 metres off 2 carries, as well as 6/6 tackle attempts. Perhaps I was wrong about the Conan-Doris conundrum last week?
Reserve Halfback - Conor Murray (No rating)
Played for just 11 minutes and did his job for the team. Made just 13 passes and 1 tackle so won't be rated.
Reserve First-Five - Joey Carbery (No rating)
Surely Ireland could have bought him on at fullback instead of leaving him to play just 6 minutes?
Reserve Midfielder - Bundee Aki (7/10)
Bought huge energy off the bench and ran 35 metres and 1 clean break off 10 carries. Despite making just 1 pass, Aki's excellent work ethic was ever-present on defence against his nation of birth, 8 tackles and 1 turnover were a strong effort.
Bundee Aki communicates with teammates during a warm-up. Photo: Max Sharp.