7 Nov 2016

ABs outplayed, outpassioned, out-thought

7:37 am on 7 November 2016

By Matt Richens* - @mattrichens

Opinion - I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed.

Part of me wanted to text my Irish mates yesterday morning and say "well played" in a pre-emptive strike, while another part had to bite my tongue not to say something to the not-so-gracious Irishman behind me at the pub.

I just finished my Guinness (yes, sadly, this really was what I was drinking) and slunk out the door, tail firmly between my legs.

Ireland's Conor Murray celebrates Robbie Henshaw's try.

Ireland's Conor Murray celebrates Robbie Henshaw's try. Photo: Photosport

You have to take your hat off to the Irish after their slick 40-29 All Black ambush, but the world champions should have been so much better.

The All Blacks had conceded 40 points for the first time in 12 years, lost to Ireland for the first time since the sides first met in 1905 and, if we're being honest, were woeful. They looked short of answers as Joe Schmidt's side did to them what the ABs do to most other teams; exploited weaknesses and interrupted their game plan.

Ireland put the All Blacks under all kinds of pressure, pushed the letter to the law and rode their luck while destroying their more-fancied opponents at the collision. They were, 100 per cent, the better team. And by some margin.

But while part of me was seething, part was strangely okay with the loss.

Why I'm not too worried

That it was a nothing game and a fundraising gimmick with no silverware on the line gave me some solace - eventually - as did the fact the Irish played superbly.

But the biggest comfort to me was the fact it was Ireland.

Most would agree Ireland hold a special place in much of the world's hearts - they seem to be everyone's second favourite team. They've got great fans, have tried to shake the traditionally boring Northern Hemisphere game plan, they don't take themselves too seriously, they loathe the English and we all have an Irish mate who is a good rooster.

The way they've played in the last 12 months makes it no surprise it was them to end the All Black streak rather than the Wallabies or Springboks.

There were injuries to key All Blacks and at the end of the game there were players out of position but by then the bulk of the damage was done.

It is worth remembering the Irish were missing a number of players for various reasons, including world class loosies Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony, who will both be back for the Dublin rematch. How good is that game going to be now?

There have been plenty of comments about how we must have matured as fans since there was less vitriol after this loss, but I doubt that's the case. If this loss was in a World Cup, against Australia or in New Zealand, there would be hell to pay. We all just have a soft spot for the Irish.

Why I am worried

The All Blacks weren't just outplayed, they were outpassioned, out-thought and even when they did mount a comeback, the Irish were able to come back and deal the knock-out blow.

The defence was hapless at times as were a number of players.

In 44 minutes Aaron Smith did everything he could to help make TJ Perenara - one of the few standouts - the number one number nine. Dane Coles' throwing was poor, Beauden Barrett had his worst game in recent memory and both wingers needed to do more work. To make matters worse the tight five were outgunned around the paddock and at the line-out while other referees might have sent Joe Moody for an early shower after his silly tip tackle.

Not playing a second specialist lock against such a strong line out was always risky and it backfired. Kaino is a good fill in, but his lack of experience made it difficult to make up for Coles' sub-par showing and in his 36 minutes Scott Barrett proved he need not have been protected on the bench.

The All Blacks claim they weren't in tourist mode this week, but yesterday's evidence shows they were nowhere near as prepared as the Irish - and that is concerning.

Being outplayed is one thing, but the All Blacks are always better prepared.

Let's just be thankful they don't have a date with the English at Twickenham this tour; we'd not be so gracious if it were Eddie Jones who plotted the AB's downfall.

* Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 10 years.

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