Crucial miss: Jonathan Sexton reacts after missing a penalty kick for Ireland with four minutes to go. Photo: Reuters
DUBLIN: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said it was devastating that his side had come within seconds of an historic first ever win over world champions New Zealand only to lose 24-22 with the final kick in one of the sport's most memorable ever Test matches.
The Irish had possession deep in the All Black half with less than a minute to go but they conceded a penalty and the Kiwis produced a stunning passage of play to move the ball downfield for Ryan Crotty to score a try -- which Aaron Cruden converted at the second opportunity.
The 48-year-old New Zealander, appointed to the post after Declan Kidney was sacked following a disappointing Six Nations campaign earlier this year, added it was a missed opportunity which had seen the Irish make a total mockery of their odds of 10/1 to win Saturday's game and led 22-7 at half-time.
Devastated: Ireland's Cian Healy (L) and Brian O'Driscoll. Photo: Reuters
Indeed had Johnny Sexton not missed a kickeable penalty inside the final 10 minutes, which would have seen them lead 25-17, even the All Blacks admitted it would have been game over.
Schmidt, though, said even without the points from the penalty the Irish should have held on.
"To be a minute away from history and with the ball in our hands and deep inside their territory, not to do it is devastating," said Schmidt, who emerges from his first November campaign with one win and two defeats.
All Blacks make history in Dublin
New Zealand's centre Ben Smith (C) misses a tackle on Ireland's fullback Rob Kearney. Photo: AFP
"It is a missed opportunity. You don't get many opportunities to play the All Blacks and you certainly don't get many like that to beat them.
"If we had done that it would have been a feather in the boys' caps."
Schmidt, who got the post after guiding Leinster to two European Cup titles, admitted he was beginning to worry in the dying minutes.
"To be honest we started to look a bit piecemeal out there," he said.
"By the last few minutes we had some guys out on their feet as they made a heck of a lot of tackles in the second-half and others who had taken knocks.
"In the end it was too thin a line to hold."
Schmidt, who said on Friday he would not have mixed emotions when his Kiwi national anthem rang out as his loyalties were to a 'superb bunch of guys', commented he would not have taken consolation even if Cruden had missed the conversion and it had ended as a draw.
"It wouldn't have been a relief to us to draw," he said.
"We haven't beaten them in 108 years of trying and we have already drawn against them (in 1973 while losing the other 27 times).
"A draw would have been like a loss to us.
"This to me is a more disappointing outcome than last weekend's result (they lost 32-15 to Australia in a much-criticised performance).
"Last week we were never in danger of winning but today when you set yourself up to win a Test and then you don't take it, it is bitterly disappointing."
Ireland's inspirational captain lock Paul O'Connell, who dominated the line-out, said it was pleasing to have rediscovered some of the things that had been missing in the defeat by Australia.
"We had the intensity, the attitude and the emotion that was lacking last week," said the 34-year-old.
"But it is disappointing and frustrating to give away those points in the final seconds when our defence had been so strong all day.
"Got to give credit to the All Blacks they showed great character.
"However, they have that confidence that stems from the momentum of winning. We desperately need to gain some of that. Over the past couple of years we have produced some performances like the one today but have failed to build on it.
"So we must keep this performance in the back of our heads while we go back to play for our provinces and return for the Six Nations capable of repeating that in our opening game against Scotland."