Inspired, relentless Ireland reinforced All Blacks' deep-seated issues

Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong eyes of New Zealand's Dalton Papalii during the Test at Aviva Stadium, Dublin, November 13, 2021 Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

A humbling loss to Ireland has the All Blacks hurting, and rightly so. Not since the 2019 World Cup semifinal have they been so comprehensively outplayed.

Worryingly, many of the same crippling flaws England brutally exposed that evening in Yokohama remain prevalent.

A response this weekend, in the final Test of the year, will be demanded but, even then, there is a growing sense the All Blacks have several deep-seated issues to address.

Lose against France for the first time since 1973 in Paris and the All Blacks will slump to their worst season in 12 years. Yes, it has been that long since they suffered three losses in the same year.

As this column referenced following successive Tests against the Springboks that bookended the Rugby Championship, the blueprint for rattling the All Blacks has been evident for some time.

Just as the Springboks physically dominated the All Blacks pack so, too, did Ireland in Dublin.

The Irish did not target the air as much as expected but their tactical kicking, such as Jamison Gibson-Park's 50-22, was largely on point and their defensive line speed flustered the All Blacks backline into regular errors, robbing them of the chance to build phases.

In front of a sold-out Aviva Stadium, Ireland were inspired. Possessed, even. They dominated the collisions and varied their attack by employing deep, sweeping movements to create space and get to the edge.

Ireland were relentless.

Part of that comes back to belief. Ireland have now beaten the All Blacks in three of the last five Tests since their 2016 breakthrough victory in Chicago.

Sure, Ireland lost the match that mattered most in that time - the 2019 World Cup quarterfinal - but defeats such as last week hurt the All Blacks by diminishing their fear factor. Each one chips away at any former stranglehold they had.

Ireland's belief was clear for all to see from the outset in Dublin. By turning down shots at goal in the first half they went for the kill.

While they didn't immediately convert those chances, somehow trailing 10-5 at half time, the rewards of forcing the All Blacks to make 158 tackles in the first half alone -- the most by any tier one side in the last six years -- eventually told.

The All Blacks have mastered the art of living off scraps and striking from counter attack but even they could not survive the weight of 39% possession and 33% territory. No team could.

Much of the immediate criticism was directed at the All Blacks pack for failing to win the gain line and lay a commanding platform. Ian Foster instead turned the heat on his depleted backline that will be missing senior figures Anton Lienert-Brown (shoulder) and Beauden Barrett (head knock) this week.

"We turned over a lot of ball in the backs within one or two phases," Foster said this week. "That's something that hurt us in the first Test against South Africa even though we won.

"That came back to bite us a little bit so it's a matter of backs being accountable for the decisions they make and retaining the ball to give our forwards a chance to impose themselves. That's going to be a big part of the solution.

"Ireland managed to put us under a lot of pressure, not only when they had the ball but we got quite flustered at times and lacked composure so they are the moments we've got to take lessons from."

Foster's comments suggest plans were in place to combat the inevitable defensive rush but the All Blacks decision-making let them down. It could be as simple as taking an extra metre to give playmakers added time and space and being more patient on attack but, at present, it also seems the All Blacks are in need of innovation.

One glaring issue is the increasingly problematic second five-eighth position where Ngani Lauampe's departure to France this year looks more baffling by the week. David Havili, having starred in his new role against the Wallabies and Pumas, now appears to be lacking confidence which may force the All Blacks to turn to Quinn Tupaea in his rookie Test season.

TJ Perenara's laboured delivery, combined with a rash quick tap under his sticks in the first half against Ireland, significantly hindered the All Blacks. With Aaron Smith flown in as cover last week, he must feature against France.

Richie Mo'unga is expected to step in for Barrett at first-five and after another quiet performance against Ireland, he will be keen to leave a lasting impression.

Sam Cane, left out of the squad last week as he continues his cautious comeback from surgery, is another reinforcement likely to inject energy to a weary forward pack. So, too, is veteran hooker Dane Coles pushing for a start.

If emerging from the deflating Irish loss into a season-defining Test is not enough motivation for the All Blacks there's also the need to maintain a nagging sense of doubt in a French side widely considered to be serious contenders for the 2023 World Cup.

Fuel the French belief and one only has to look to Ireland to see where that can lead.

The All Blacks and France will, of course, meet in the opening match of the World Cup in Paris, adding another dollop of significance to this weekend.

A wounded All Blacks side is, usually, a dangerous beast. Poking the bear, usually, evokes a swift reaction.

Yet at the end of a long tour away from home the lingering questions keep mounting for the All Blacks. This is their last chance of the year to provide answers.