Joe Schmidt: 'We were a minute away from history'
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt wakes up this morning to reflect on just how close his team came to end 108 years of pain against New Zealand.
After leading 19-0 in the first quarter, Ireland were firmly in charge at 22-7 ahead at half-time as it looked like they were about to seal their first-ever win over the All Blacks at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
But when New Zealand levelled the scores in overtime through replacement Ryan Crotty all it took then was Aaron Cruden's conversion to hammer iome the All Blacks' 24-22 victory.
As they enjoyed their status as the first professional-era team to complete a perfect season, Schmidt had to accepte that nothing could alleviate the deep dejection of a cruel defeat.
"We were in possession with a minute to go.
"But to be a minute away from history and have the ball in your hands on their 10-metre line, well it's devastating.
"I guess you sum it up as a step forward, but a missed opportunity.
"You don't get too many opportunities to play the All Blacks and to stop them doing something that's pretty special.
"It would have been a feather in our caps to be the ones to knock them over.
"We lost a few guys with injury and we started to look a bit piecemeal out there.
"I thought we were pretty dynamic in those first 20 minutes and pretty good for the lead we made.
"They put a lot of pressure on us in the second-half and the defence in the end is disappointing but it's cumulative.
"We made a lot of tackles in the second half and that started to show.
"We were hanging on by a thread and the thread was just a little bit too thin to make sure we could stop them."
Aaron Cruden's second attempt at an overtime conversion put an end to Ireland's best-ever chance of a first victory over New Zealand, and made professional-era history for the All Blacks as they recorded a 24-22 win.
Ryan Crotty's last-gasp try locked the scores at 22-22 with the conversion to come and Chiefs fly-half Cruden fluffed it the first attempt, only to be handed a dramatic reprieve.
Ireland flew off their line before Cruden had started his run-up, referee Nigel Owens ordered a retake: and the Kiwi playmaker delivered to spoil an otherwise-impressive Irish performance.
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, wing Julian Savea and prop Ben Franks notching tries to turn the tide.
Leading by just 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 at the 28th attempt.
Ireland had led the All Blacks 21-7 after 43 minutes in Dublin in 2001: New Zealand won 40-29 that day in Dublin.
Agonisingly that pattern was repeated, and now Brian O'Driscoll will never beat the All Blacks.
Paul O'Connell labelled this Ireland's best-ever chance to beat New Zealand in mid-week, and so it proved.
The thunderclap of three first-quarter tries shook the All Blacks to their very core.
The grit so lacking from Ireland in 32-15 Australia defeat last week was immediately clear from the off.
A stub-grubber from O'Driscoll forced New Zealand into a knock on in their own 22.
Dave Kearney cut in off his wing, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien punched tight-drive holes - and half-back Murray pounced to open the scoring.
Leinster's bullocking prop Healy then bust the line again, sending hooker Best through the gap.
O'Brien followed suit to find Murray, and Ireland were scenting the whitewash again - more quick ball allowed Best to dummy a pass and wriggle home for the home side's second try.
Try-scorer Best was forced to trudge off with a shoulder injury with less than 15 minutes on the clock though, Sean Cronin joining the fray in his stead.
Dogged Ireland sustained the pressure though, and when Israel Dagg failed to hold Cruden's pass, Kearney pounced.
None of the New Zealand cover could catch the full-back, who raced clear to register his eighth international score.
Fly-half Aaron Cruden's clever cross-field chip set wing Savea free, and the arch finisher cut home for his third try in two weeks.
Undeterred, Ireland pressed on again, and quickly set camp in the All Blacks' 22.
Sexton then slotted a penalty after New Zealand turned in at the scrum, to extend the home lead to 22-7 at the break.
New Zealand built consistent pressure after half-time, taking a scrum from a kickable penalty - but Tommy Bowe intercepted Ma'a Nonu's pass to allow brief respite.
Cruden sent a second goal-worthy penalty to the corner for a line-out, only for Devin Toner to produce a first-class steal at the tail.
New Zealand wrapped up Ireland's ruck though, winning a scrum in the home 22.
Savea came in off his wing to pinch the Irish defence, before full-back Dagg hurtled across the tryline.
English Television Match Official Graham Hughes was called to adjudicate by Welsh referee Nigel Owens.
And Hughes chalked it off, much to the visitors' surprise.
New Zealand came again from their five-metre scrum, Murray stripped Ben Smith to give Ireland the steal - only for Toner to be penalised for obstruction.
Cruden slotted the goal to cut Ireland's lead to 12, before O'Driscoll was withdrawn through injury, replaced by Luke Fitzgerald.
The Kiwi out-half failed with another penalty strike minutes later though.
Read's mistimed tackle took Kearney out in mid-air, gifting Ireland a penalty and chance to clear from their own 22.
Sexton's weak clearance and Bowe's missed tackle on Savea handed the initiative straight back to New Zealand though.
Quick hands from Read, a half-break from Ben Smith and New Zealand were within whitewash range again - and a bloodied Ben Franks barrelled over for the All Blacks' second converted try.
Ireland's lead cut to five paltry points, New Zealand's stubborn will set up a fraught finale.
Ireland launched another strong maul, forcing a penalty deep in the Kiwis' 22.
Sexton could not extend Ireland's lead to eight though, striking wide of the right-hand post.
New Zealand inevitably pressed again, but Nonu's loose knock on and Cruden's ill-judged chip let Ireland off the hook.
Ireland failed to drive tight phases to the conclusion, conceding a soft ruck penalty.
New Zealand launched one final attack, Read, Ben Smith and Nonu prevalent: before Ryan Crotty nipped home in the left corner.
TMO Hughes was brought into play to make the ruling, and after several minutes' discussion the try was awarded.
Cruden failed with the conversion attempt - but Ireland raced off their line before the fly-half started his run-up.
Referee Owens gave the All Blacks stand-off another chance for the extra points.
He made no mistake second time around, notching New Zealand's place in history, but breaking Irish hearts in the process.