Interspersed with the occasional rap of a firm, unyielding cane, Ireland have pushed New Zealand to the brink of defeat before falling short.
The second Test of Ireland’s tour to New Zealand last summer sticks in the craw as an agonising ‘might have been’ result. Jonathan Sexton missed a 74th minute penalty before 14-man New Zealand rallied, got a late drop goal and won 22-19.
Ireland led 10-9 at half-time in Christchurch that day but have been guilty of squandering a much healthier lead in recent years. A dozen years ago, Warren Gatland’s Irish team led the All Blacks 21-7 after 43 minutes, at Lansdowne Road, and were still comfortably beaten.
David Wallace was nine matches into his international career when a New Zealand team containing Jonah Lomu, Andrew Mehrtens, Anton Oliver and debutant Richie McCaw came to Dublin. The visitors still rank as the greatest side never to win a World Cup but, for 43 glorious minutes, Wallace and his colleagues had them reeling.
He told TheScore.ie: “I’ve played the All Blacks [six] times in my career and we were competitive in most games. The one that stings the most was 2001.
We scored just after the break, through Kevin Maggs, and were 21-7 up but capitulated in the second-half. We started with such intensity and purpose but could not carry it for 80 minutes. New Zealand did all the damage in the second-half.”
That damage included a jaw-dropping total five tries in the second-half. Inside centre Aaron Mauger ran in a 40-metre effort after leaving several green shirts in his wake, minutes after Lomu had rediscovered his attacking spark to power over.
In the space of 30 second-half minutes, Ireland had conceded 33 points. Eric Miller’s late try proved a consolation and, for Ireland, the wait would go on. The Guardian’s Robert Kitson wrote: “When Keith Wood and Jonah Lomu exchanged jerseys they did so not in a winner-consoles-loser fashion but as mutually battered equals.”
Jonah Lomu and Keith Woods shake hands after the 2001 match. INPHO/Patrick Bolger
The closest Wallace got to avenging that defeat would be in Wellington seven years later . His namesake, Paddy Wallace scored a fine try and Ireland were 11-8 ahead early in the second-half after a Ronan O’Gara penalty. “We were on top and had been dominating the game until Ma’a Nonu got a breakaway try that turned the game. We lost 21-11, which was not a fair reflection on how close we had pushed them,” Wallace recalled.
Brian O’Driscoll, along with McCaw, is the only player to feature in the close calls of 2001, 2008 and last June. “Brian would dearly love to get a win,” said Wallace, “but this weekend it seems like a million miles away from happening.”