Ireland and Wales came within minutes—one minute for Wales—of turning international rugby on its head.
All Black flyhalf Dan Carter kicked only his fifth drop goal in 87 matches to give New Zealand a 22—19 victory over Ireland in Christchurch with only two minutes on the clock.
A week earlier, the All Blacks had demolished Ireland 42—10, in their first game of the season.
Improvement was expected as the All Blacks developed match fitness and combinations. Many imagined Ireland would be routed. But it was the Irish who improved, matching the All Blacks in all facets of play to produce an epic Test match, if not a victory.
Just before Carter won the game, the Irish should have been awarded a penalty that would have given them an historic 22—19 victory.
All Black coach Steve Hansen said Ireland deserved to win, but he said his side’s character under pressure was impressive.
He attributed the victory to players staying calm and sticking to the game plan.
In making those comments, Hansen may have sketched the pattern for his reign as coach. He seems to put great store in players knuckling down and doing their jobs. While that seems pragmatic, it’s actually an emotional approach.
It builds a one-for-all and all-for-one spirit that inspires players.
In short interviews after the game, both Carter and captain Ritchie McCaw talked about character, so they are committed to the new ethos.
McCaw played well, but was also a weakness. He moved to No. 8 when Kieran Read was injured, which undermined the All Black scrum.
Irish hooker Rory Best summed the game up, saying: “That’s rugby … it’s cruel for one team and brilliant for the other.”
By the end of the Test, the Irish scrum was dominating the world-champion All Blacks.
“It is a very good New Zealand scrum and we were pleased, especially with the way we finished the game,” Best said.
Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said he was “gutted” by the loss. He knew Ireland had played well, but despair was blinding him to any positives.
Coach Declan Kidney was still focused on the series. He congratulated New Zealand, but said there was still one Test to play in Hamilton on Saturday, while hinting that he had a trick or two up his sleeve.
Wales vs Australia
In Melbourne, Wales inexplicably kicked the ball to Australia with full-time showing on the clock. Moments later the Wallabies won a penalty that was converted by replacement flyhalf Mike Harris, enabling Australia to steal the match 25—23.
Curiously, Harris has been dropped for the third Test in Sydney on Saturday to make room for fullback Kurtley Beale, who returns from injury.
The Welsh players were stunned by the loss. As the crowd cheered the Wallabies, Wales captain Sam Warburton stood motionless, a picture of abject despair, his side unable to break a 43-year drought in Australia.
Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards questioned the legality of ruck play by Australian captain David Pocock. He also revealed that he had used a mid-week, State of Origin Rugby league game between New South Wales and Queensland as a motivating tool.
“I thought it was a really, really good attitude [from Wales],” he said. “I couldn’t have faulted the boys one iota.”
Pocock dismissed the suggestions of illegal play.
He said contested ball is always reviewed after tough, close games, with the losing side focusing on 50—50 calls. He thought match referee Chris Pollock was “pretty consistent”.
With the series decided, Pocock said there was “a great opportunity” to play entertaining rugby when the sides meet again on Saturday.
England vs South Africa
In South Africa, the Springboks beat England more comfortably, to be the third of the southern hemisphere teams to win its three-Test series in the second game.
England had only touched the ball twice when Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis crashed over for the second Boks try.
After 20 minutes, England had scored three points, the Springboks 22. A humiliating defeat seemed likely, but a shell-shocked England fought back, giving themselves a glimpse of victory.
That bulldog grit and hard work was brought to an end by Springboks winger JP Pietersen who scored a virtuoso try, sealing a man-of-the-match performance.
Final score in Durban 36—27. The sides play the third Test in Port Elizabeth at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Peter Lalanabarvi has over 30 years’ experience as a rugby writer.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.