All Blacks make history with sensational win over Ireland

Ireland 22 New Zealand 24. So they've done it. New Zealand have become the first nation in professional rugby union to go through a calendar year unbeaten. Fourteen wins from 14 matches but, wow, how the Irish made them work for that last triumph.

It was an Ireland transformed from the tame team that slumped to a 32-15 defeat to Australia last week in Dublin. Eight days later they were all fire and brimstone, 15 ferocious men in green who overwhelmed the All Blacks in the first quarter.

When after 18 minutes the scoreboard read 'Ireland 19 New Zealand 0', more than a few fans rubbed their eyes and tried to remember just how many pints of the Black Stuff they'd supped before taking their seat in the Aviva Stadium.

Surely this wasn't happening, but it was, and no player epitomised the Irish spirit quite like flanker Sean O'Brien. If the big Leinster man was inspired then so were the rest of his pack. No 8 Jamie Heaslip was all snot and aggression, while Paul O'Connell and Cian Healy also lived up to their billing.

It was a back, however, scrum-half Conor Murray, who opened the scoring when he burrowed over the Kiwi try-line after just four minutes. Six minutes later O'Brien stretched the All Black defence with another bullocking run, allowing hooker Rory Best to crash over for try number two.

When full-back Rob Kearney intercepted an All Black pass deep in his own half and ran the length of the field to score, the roar in Dublin could have been heard in Dungannon, Dingle and probably even Dundee. It was a quite incredible start to an international but even with a 19 point lead, the Irish faithful didn't get too carried away.

After all, their boys had yet to beat the All Blacks in 108 years of trying and not for nothing are New Zealand world champions. Back they came at their hosts with fly-half Aaron Cruden teeing up Julian Savea with a cute cross kick that the wing gathered and dotted down for their first try.

The second half became unbearably tense as the Irish saw the talismanic Brian O'Driscoll leave the field with a blow to the head. Then when prop Ben Franks scored New Zealand's second try on 65 minutes the capacity crowd readied themselves for 15 minutes of exquisite drama.

New Zealand had narrowed the gap to 22-17 but Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton should have stretched the lead to a crucial eight points had he managed to land a penalty. But he pushed the attempt wide and the All Blacks seized their chance. The clocked showed we were in stoppage time but the Kiwis stayed calm and substitute Ryan Crotty dived over in the corner to level the scores at 22-22.

Yet there was still more drama to come. Cruden missed the wide-out conversion but referee Nigel Owens ruled that the Irish had charged him too soon. Second time round the fly-half's kick flew between the posts and Ireland's players slumped to their knees.

"You've got to be prepared to defend until the final seconds and we didn't," said a disconsolate Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. "We have to live with that now."

His Kiwi counterpart, Steve Hansen, who has lost just once in 28 Tests as New Zealand coach, admitted his side had been "rattled" by Ireland's initial onslaught. "It wasn't the script, that's for sure," he continued. "[But] I'm extremely proud of the 23 guys we had in our group today. To come from where we had to come from and claw our way across the line, it's a pretty special effort and it says why they are a special team."

A special team, a special match but above all, a special year for the All Blacks. · 

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