International Rugby: New Zealand 21, Ireland 11

Jonathon MurphyCorrespondent IJune 7, 2008

Battling Ireland's bid for their first win against New Zealand faltered at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.

The Irish had been quietly confident in the build-up to the match that this time they would go one step further than they had in 20 previous outings.

But despite an overwhelming edge in experience - their starting XV had 607 caps between them compared to New Zealand's 378 - they were unable to prevent the All Blacks continuing their 103-year dominance.

The result will have gone some way towards relieving the pressure on under-fire coach Graham Henry, who has been enemy number one since his reappointment following the World Cup failure.

However, it was a far from vintage performance with some indifferent kicking out of hand and lapses in concentration in the All Blacks' first game of the year - and their first since last year's World Cup quarter-final exit.

Wet and windy conditions meant there was little fast, free-flowing rugby - with both sides happy to kick for territory rather than send the ball through the hands.

Yet despite that, all three tries - to New Zealand wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and inside centre Ma'a Nonu and Ireland's inside centre Paddy Wallace - came from moves which saw the ball given some air.

The Irish pack, with seven players from Munster's Heineken Cup-winning campaign, had been expected to give the All Blacks a torrid time in the scrums - but the Kiwi forwards more than matched their opponents in every facet of the game.

Ireland had an indifferent start conceding two turnovers, then Tommy Bowe made a hash of a Daniel Carter clearance when he ended up kicking the ball out closer to his own goal-line.

It would have been costly had Nonu not lost the ball forward - but unfortunately Ireland could not capitalise on that mistake nor on a clearance kick charge down further down the field which saw the ball hit the corner post before Bowe could get a hand to it.

Ireland however, got off the mark first, in the ninth minute, with a penalty to O'Gara. But New Zealand responded with Sivivatu's try in the left-hand corner just six minutes later after full-back Rob Kearney kicked the ball out on the full. Carter, with the strong wind against him, could not add the extras.

Ireland's response was swift though. After a series of reset scrums five metres from the All Blacks line the Irish won a penalty and chose a quick tap.

The pack drove over the line but were held up - however referee Chris White had already signalled another penalty against the All Blacks for not retreating 10 metres.

From the resulting quick tap the Irish forwards sucked in the All Blacks defence and the ball was fed out to Paddy Wallace, who shrugged off a tackle to touch down.

O'Gara missed the conversion but the Irish were ahead 8-5.

Carter missed another penalty attempt in the 26th minute but the hosts were level at half-time courtesy of his boot after the Irish were penalised for killing the ball.

O'Gara opened the second half with his second penalty but the advantage was short-lived as Carter responded to tie the scores up again.

Kearney had another lucky escape in the 51st minute when he inexplicably left the ball to drift across the goal-line then completed missed the kick to clear it but the ball bobbled across the sideline before Conrad Smith could get a hand to it.

A moment of indiscipline from prop Marcus Horan, whose hit on a prone All Black earned him the wrath of lock Paul O'Connell, allowed the All Blacks to break the shackles with Carter making no mistake to give the hosts a 14-11 lead.

And the match was put beyond doubt in the 63rd minute when replacement prop John Schwalger popped up a lovely pass to his Hurricanes team-mate Nonu who powered his way over the line with Kearney and Shane Horgan hanging off him. Carter added the extras to make it 21-11.

The Irish threw everything they had at their hosts in the dying minutes but were denied by some staunch defence.