Fly-half Dan Carter was composed under pressure just when New Zealand needed it, slotting home an 80th-minute drop goal as the world champions snatched a tense victory and broke Ireland's hearts in Christchurch to win the three-match series with a game to spare.
Ireland had never beaten the All Blacks in their 25 previous encounters, with a 10-10 draw in 1973 the closest they came in the 107 years they have been playing Test matches. Having drawn level at 19-19 and with New Zealand full-back Israel Dagg sin-binned for a late charge on his opposite Rob Kearney in the 72nd minute, yesterday's match at a chilly Rugby League Park was Ireland's for the taking.
The collective experience of the All Blacks, who ground out a tense 8-7 victory last year to win the World Cup, however, enabled them to march down the field in the final five minutes to win the match.
"The thing was to stay calm," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. "There was time left on the clock...the message was to keep believing in the plan. Ideally we would have liked to have been in a better position than that, but composure is a big thing."
The match had added significance for the crowd, who had not seen an All Blacks Test in almost two years after a devastating earthquake destroyed the central city and badly affected Lancaster Park. Starved of international rugby, the 20,669-strong crowd welcomed the All Blacks on to the temporary ground at Rugby League Park to a standing ovation.
McCaw had said beforehand that he did not expect the earthquake to provide any additional motivation for his side, and that the All Blacks jersey should be enough. Ireland, however, who were supposed to have had their best chance of beating the All Blacks last week in Auckland, showed plenty of pride in their own jerseys.
They upped their intensity and made massive hits in contact, upset the All Blacks at the breakdown and held the ball through numerous phases.
"What a difference a week makes, eh?" All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "Ireland played with a lot of conviction. A lot of energy. A lot of urgency. But I'd like to give my own team a pat on the back for the character they showed. It was a game we shouldn't have won...we didn't play as well as we would have liked, but they showed some really special character to hang in there and win the game.
"I felt the last five to 10 minutes the big guys in the team stood up...and we didn't get there because DC dropped a goal. We got there because we had a plan and everyone did their job under pressure."
Twice the All Blacks set for a drop goal with a poor pass from replacement scrum-half Piri Weepu forcing Carter on to his weaker right foot, though the kick was partially charged and the home side were awarded an attacking scrum.
Weepu made no mistake a second time, with Carter slotting back in the pocket and guiding the ball through the posts to send the crowd into delirium and the Irish slumping to their knees.
"I'm gutted," Irish captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "We got back on level terms, but to concede the way we did is disappointing. Out performance was massively improved from last week and I'm very proud of the lads. We try to be a consistent team, but we dipped below our own high standards last week. Individually and collectively, the jersey deserved more from us...and I think we did manage to do that [on Saturday], albeit we fell at the final hurdle."