All Blacks v Ireland: Determined goal-line stand sets tone for more Eden Park dominance over visitors

Every year, All Blacks fans and critics alike brace themselves for the parapets of Eden Park to fall, and the national rugby team's winning streak at Auckland to end.

Yes, we didn't need boorish billboards to remind us that almost 30 years have passed since the French needed a try from the end of the world to stun the home side there for their first-ever series victory in New Zealand.

With their recent record against the All Blacks, the brave Irish seemed the latest, most likely challengers to bring the walls crumbling down, and pile more pressure on the under-siege reputations of coach Ian Foster and captain Sam Cane.

Not this year, though, after the hosts defended their hearts out for a 42-19 triumph that washed away the bitter taste of defeat in their most recent meeting at Dublin last November. 

Beauden Barrett addresses his teammates at Eden Park
Beauden Barrett addresses his teammates at Eden Park. Photo credit: Getty

While the six tries - all converted by fullback Jordie Barrett - provided candy for the 40,000-plus faithful packing out the Reimers Ave fortress, perhaps the most telling indicator of New Zealand's resolve came in their defence of the last few centimetres of their territory. 

Ireland scored three tries of their own, but poured on the pressure inside the All Blacks 22 and had several other opportunities turned back by superb goal-line scramble.

Within seconds, midway through the second half, centre Rieko Ioane forced Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier into knock-ons, as they dove across for seemingly certain five-pointers.   

All Blacks forwards Cane (14), Sam Whitelock (20), Scott Barrett (18), Brodie Retallick (15), Ardie Savea (16), Samisone Taukei'aho (13) and Angus Ta'avao (11) all returned double-figure tackle counts, while winger Sevu Reece managed 12, as he looked for work beyond his tryscoring threat.

"We wanted to front up in set-piece, first and foremost, and then collisions," reflected Cane. "I though we defended our goal-line pretty well, even right up there until the 85th minute.

"Particularly, even though we knew the game was won, it just reflects the pride and attitude, and what it means to pull on an All Black jersey and play at home, and defend our line like that.

"We held them up numerous times. We've got to sort out our discipline, so we don't end up down there too much, but it was good to see."

Barrett's selection at blindside flanker had attracted surprise and criticism, given his previous most notable outing in the No.6 jersey came in New Zealand's 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to England, but his defensive presence was immense.

"He's a good footballer and we think he's been one of the form forwards," said Foster. "Most of that form was at lock, with a little bit at six, but it was a role that suited us today.

"He carried well, defended well and contributed to a pretty good set-piece effort, so he should be pretty proud of it, really.

"There was a bit of circumstance around it with selection, but it certainly sped up an idea we've had in that space and hopefully provided another game for people to talk about, rather than the other one, when he played six."

After losing most their coaching staff and three potential starters with COVID-19 during the build-up, the All Blacks showed their resilience and depth to find their rhythm in the 20 minutes before halftime, when they ran in four unanswered tries.

"I thought the work of Sam and our leaders this week was phenomenal," said Foster, who returned from COVID isolation to attend the match in person. "They took on a big load.

"It was a very unique week. To be involved with coaching the All Blacks via Zoom from home and still be married at the end of the week was pretty satisfying."

But Ireland should also be heartened by the opportunities they created.

"I though you saw a very determined Irish team tonight," said Foster. "They would have had enough glimpses in that first quarter, particularly the third quarter and even the way they finished to walk away with a bit of hope.

"We were put under a lot of pressure and particularly defensively, I would have just given us a pass mark. I though our goal-line stuff was excellent, but we really did allow too many opportunities for them to get in behind us and they'll be pleased with that."

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the second All Blacks v Ireland test at Dunedin