15. Rob Kearney – 6½
Had to call upon the less glamorous side of his game for the most part, but wasn’t found wanting. Shepherded numerous awkward kicks across the touchline, cleared his lines at every opportunity and won two turnovers.
14. Fergus McFadden – 6
Chased manically all night, making Conor Murray’s box-kicking into an attacking weapon. Shackled the monstrous Julian Savea courageously to exorcise some first Test demons.
13. Brian O’Driscoll – 8
Immense on-field presence and unparalleled, patriotic passion made his charges believe they could achieve something great. Captain Fantastic offered himself as a target man when the going got tough in the third quarter and made some headway. Hell of a player, hell of a man.
12. Gordon D’Arcy – 6
Smashed by Savea early on but missed nothing after that. Showed glimpses of daring distribution and, on his 48th Test alongside O’Driscoll, did not look out of place in the company of world champions until a calf strain curtailed his night.
11. Andrew Trimble – 5
Didn’t touch the ball until 5 minutes before half-time, which was all the more frustrating because his opposite number, Zac Guildford, looked for work on a misty Christchurch evening made for forwards. Might may way for Simon Zebo’s pace in Hamilton.
10. Jonathan Sexton – 8
More subtle than his cavalier performances for Leinster this season but just as effective. Incredible, unflappable skills of game management and was deadly with the boot, until his last attempt landed agonisingly short. Looked every inch a British Lion.
9. Conor Murray – 7½
Miles better. Added patience and composure to his trademark spark – evidenced in his early try, when he picked his spot and darted over. Grew in confidence thereafter and deserves to start next weekend.
1. Cian Healy – 8½
The statistics on Healy’s efforts in the loose are staggering – seven carries, 13 tackles and a turnover – but we always knew he was capable of that. What came as a surprise was his strength at scrum-time, where he faced both Franks brothers. ‘Church’ just about beat Owen before brutalising Ben. Great performance.
2. Rory Best – 6
Not as influential as last week – one overthrown lineout and also gave away a soft three points after a breakdown offence early on. Having said that, Best also embodied the tourists’ gutsy commitment.
3. Mike Ross – 7
Epitomised Ireland’s growth over the course of the contest. Comprehensively butchered in the first scrum of the night and gave away a needless penalty at the ruck, then utterly destructive when he clicked into gear. Scarily powerful at the end when the All Blacks set-piece splintered.
4. Dan Tuohy – 6
Equally strong as his second-row colleague in defence, though not as effervescent in the loose. Also pinged for not rolling away in the first half, which – in an eminently kickable position – was entirely avoidable.
5. Donncha Ryan – 7½
Made 14 tackles and missed none on a night made for him, but didn’t stop at defence. The go-to lineout option and carried like a back-rower. Filled Paul O’Connel’s shoes courageously.
6. Kevin McLaughlin – 7
A dogged, selfless showing. Nullified formidable back row opponents – including the peerless Keiran Read – on what was only his fourth appearance for Ireland. Impressive.
7. Sean O’Brien – 7½
The breakdown battleship is still raw but made Richie McCaw look sluggish – now there’s a statement. Awesome, all-action showing was slightly tainted by a needless first-half penalty for over-exuberance at the ruck that gave floundering New Zealand a foothold.
8. Jamie Heaslip – 8
The proud recipient of a 50th cap was close to his brilliant best. Heaslip was the cornerstone for a more direct, combative running game and made the hardest yards in town. Tackled his heart out too, which was all the more impressive given that he fractured his right index finger mid-way through the second half. Absence will be palpable next week.
Ronan O’Gara, employed as an extra midfield distributor, made the best impression here and vindicated a selection that raised some eyebrows prior to the tour. Eoin Reddan was lively but will rue a vital
knock-on at the death, while Donncha O’Callaghan and Peter O’Mahoney were partly responsible for the (very) dubious penalty that gave New Zealand the sniff they needed.
Enjoyed exactly the same amount of territory (62%) and possession (59%) as last week but just could not prise some seriously stubborn floodgates open. Aaron Smith impressed with his general fizz around the fringes and Dan Carter’s drop-goal at the death was the true mark of a winner, but the rest wasn’t really worth shouting about.
Sonny Bill Williams was tamed, the tight five got bullied late on and the back-row needed the half-time introduction of debutant Sam Cane to get some impetus. Having said that, the All Blacks played worse than this in the World Cup final and still prevailed. Winning ugly; that’s what champions do.
15. Israel Dagg – 6, 14. Zac Guildford – 6½, 13. Conrad Smith – 6, 12. Sonny Bill Williams – 5½, 11. Julian Savea – 5½, 10. Dan Carter – 6½, 9. Aaron Smith – 7½, 1. Tony Woodcock – 6, 2. Andrew Hore – 7, 3. Owen Franks – 6½, 4. Brodie Retallick – 7, 5. Sam Whitelock – 6, 6. Adam Thomson – 6½, 7. Richie McCaw – 6, 8. Kieran Read – 6