Raw loss hard to stomach
But Irish pleased they still have another shot
IT had to be that dastardly Dan Carter who crushed Ireland's relentless drive towards the first ever win over the All Blacks.
It was simple - straight-forward, really.
Ireland disrupted, rocked and rattled the world champions to such a degree that there looked to be only one winner when full-back Israel Dagg was rightly binned for a shoulder charge on Rob Kearney in the 72nd minute.
Ireland had momentum, an extra man and a penalty within sight of the sticks. Jonathan Sexton's shot came up short -- it was his only miss from six kicks -- New Zealand won a penalty for illegal wheeling when the scrum should have gone the other way and Carter slotted his second drop goal attempt in under a minute to cruelly deny Ireland 22-19 in Christchurch.
Carter was reasoned in his assessment. There was no fishing for false compliments: "They brought a lot more intensity than us," he said.
"It's going to be a big learning curve for a lot of our players to realise every time you put on the black jersey you have to lift that intensity from week to week, especially playing a side on consecutive weeks like this."
It could take Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll the remainder of his career to emotionally recover from this heartbreak, the best performance against the All Blacks in 26 assignments. He has seven days.
The "raw" feeling of letting slip Ireland's first win over New Zealand was readily evident on the face of the Ireland captain. He had the look of a man in the process of digesting an inedible meal.
"The fact that we've got one more go next week is definitely a positive. We don't have to finish our season on that. We go to Hamilton to give ourselves the opportunity to do what, essentially, we failed at in Christchurch," said O'Driscoll.
Ireland's Player of the Year Rob Kearney was keen to turn his attention towards the carrot of one more shot at New Zealand.
"It is always hard to digest when you lose, especially in the manner that we lost that one. It was a real ferocious battle," he said.
"Just like last week, we'll get up and we'll go at them again. I think that is what is so good about this three-test tour.
"There is always self-belief in this group. We know we can beat this team. Nothing will change next week. We'll still have that same belief going into it."
O'Driscoll and tight-head Mike Ross may or may not be able to take to the field in Hamilton next Saturday, depending on how they mend from facial injuries.
Sadly, centre Gordon D'Arcy (calf) and number eight Jamie Heaslip (finger fracture) have been ruled out of the third and final test.
Ulster's Paddy Wallace is on his way south to provide an option in midfield. There will be no direct replacement for Heaslip as there are enough options for the back row.
The All Blacks are not short of problems either. Lock dynamo Ali Williams (knee) is out for the rest of the season and number eight kingpin Kieran Read is showing signs of taking too many head injuries. The possibility of the like-for-like loss of Heaslip and Read -- he has not been ruled out yet -- would probably leave Sean O'Brien to quickly master the number eight role and, maybe, bring former Sevens exponent Liam Messam into the All Blacks equation.
"We said we would react from last week. We were more composed at times, both in attack and in defence, and we played our own game," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
"You just have to remember, I think, Australia have played them fifteen times in the last four years and only won twice. It takes learning to know how to cope with them".
Typically, Ireland rebounded just when everyone else had given up the ghost. They were one refereeing decision away from a draw or better. It just goes to show there is life in the 'old dogs' yet.
Oh, we of little faith.