Ireland display shows they can mix it with the best

12:34 PM GMT

DUBLIN — Ireland will hit the tackle bags again this week knowing that they only have themselves to blame for doing so without the boost of a first home win over the All Blacks. There may still be grumblings from their supporters about the validity of New Zealand’s second try, but the fact is the men in green paid the price for a lack of penetration in their opponents’ 22.

Joe Schmidt’s side spent the lion’s share of a brutal Test match in the All Blacks half — and a quarter of it playing against 14 men — but were unable to turn possession and territory into points. Even when it seemed they had breached that impenetrable black wall, the vital pass or offload failed to find its intended target.

But while Ireland have plenty to work on as they prepare for Australia’s visit to Dublin next weekend, they also know there were positives to take from their second encounter in three weeks with the world champions.

It is not every week that New Zealand are forced to work as hard in defence as they did here, and the yellow cards for Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa can be taken as proof of the pressure that the hosts were able to exert.

As in Chicago, the penalty count was overwhelmingly in Ireland’s favour, while the All Blacks were forced to make 99 more tackles than their hosts. That Schmidt’s side were able to put in such an intense performance as injuries wracked up will be an antidote to the frustration.

Robbie Henshaw lasted less than 11 minutes before a clash of heads with Sam Cane forced him to depart on a stretcher, while Johnny Sexton followed him down the tunnel before the end of the first quarter. CJ Stander did not last much longer.

Test match rugby is a squad game, though, and it was therefore heartening for those in green that the intensity did not drop as Garry Ringrose, Paddy Jackson and Josh van der Flier entered the fray. Those players will be better for this experience.

“The coaching staff and senior players lead by example and have the subs prepped and demand the most out of you during the week,” a bruised and battered Ringrose said afterwards.

“Whether you have one cap or 100 caps the same is expected from everyone.”

Moving forward that attitude will be key in driving this team on as they target regaining their Six Nations crown from England next year.

Ringrose, Jackson and Van der Flier have just 24 caps worth of Test experience between them, but they now know they can go toe to toe with the All Blacks. That confidence could prove invaluable in the years ahead.

Every facet of the trio’s game was tested on Saturday evening, and little was found wanting. Jackson’s kicking kept the Irish in striking distance, Ringrose put in 10 tackles in defence, and Van der Flier made 51 metres with the ball in hand.

Ringrose described the performance of Leinster colleague Van der Flier as “incredible” after the game. “It’s cool for me sitting back and seeing him do that.”

The Dublin-born flanker with the Dutch name has now played 114 minutes against the All Blacks, and with him on the field, the score in those two games is 25-27 to the world champions. Van der Flier now knows that he can mix it with the very best.

And, as Ireland turn their attention to Australia and ultimately the Six Nations, so do they — Schmidt’s squad will prepare for those challenges with confidence rather than fear.

When frustration is the overriding emotion following a defeat to the All Blacks, you know you’re on the right path.

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Ireland display shows they can mix it with the best – RUGBY

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