Ireland v New Zealand: Their Finest Hour

Ireland v New Zealand Finest Hour
5 November 2016; Devin Toner, left, and Simon Zebo of Ireland celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After 111 years of trying Ireland finally slay the All Blacks in historic victory

By Phil Rice

Ireland produced a performance last Saturday that rivalled anything previously seen from the national team in terms of tactical awareness and sheer bloody mindedness. They determined there would be no repeat of the glorious failure of three years ago.

After 70 minutes when the All Blacks got within 4 points of Ireland’s lead, every Irish person thought ‘here we go again.’

But no not this time, Conor Murray, who was magnificent all game, found the energy and strength to catch Savea behind his goal line and drag him into touch in goal.

Ireland v New Zealand Finest Hour
5 November 2016; Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is tackled by Dane Coles of New Zealand during the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

This set up the scrum from which Heaslip fooled the All Blacks by picking quickly from the scrum and drifting infield finding Robbie Henshaw switching back and swerving past exhausted defenders to score the defining try. Cue ecstatic celebrations in every Irish bar across the globe.

The invincible All Blacks with their exceptional, world record 18-match winning streak, had just been beaten by the better team on the day.

Joe Schmidt masterminded a winning formula from a willing team who gave every last ounce of effort in a memorable performance. New Zealand were stunned. They knew what Ireland were capable of after the close affair the last time the teams met, but their shocked expressions at the final whistle told just how shaken they really were.

Record books

The teams will have another opportunity to pit their wits against each other in two weeks time at the Aviva Stadium, but whatever the outcome of that match, the record books will finally read that Ireland have overcome their nemesis, the only nation they had never beaten.

Ireland v New Zealand Finest Hour
5 November 2016; Jonathan Sexton of Ireland in action against Beauden Barrett, left, and Sam Cane of New Zealand during the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

There was no fluke about this victory. Ireland defended with unbelievable commitment, and when the All Blacks upped their efforts and turned the screw by scoring three tries during the second half, their expressions said ‘we’ve finally got them,’ but Ireland had other ideas. It seemed impossible that Ireland would prevent them from producing the winning score that would dash our hopes yet again.

Somehow they found the reserves of energy to end the 100+ years of disappointment and create a historic victory. Three years ago the realisation that Ireland could take on the world’s best, toe-to-toe and should have beaten them, gave them the belief to go on to win two Six Nations Championships.

It will be interesting to see the impact this victory will have. There were certainly players who visibly grew in stature as the game wore on and the belief in their efforts became realised. Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Josh van der Flier, stepped up to unprecedented levels. In fact each player without exception rose manfully to the challenge.

Ireland v New Zealand Finest Hour
5 November 2016; The Ireland team stand for the National Anthem ahead of the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joe Schmidt must take considerable credit for this achievement. He was clearly devastated when New Zealand stole the game from Ireland three years ago. The steely determination earned from that experience, produced a masterplan that his team executed with precision. Beating his native country, the world champions, will certainly elevate his status in ‘the land of the long white cloud.’

Ecstatic

After the game Schmidt was considered in his reaction, probably aware of the re-match in two weeks: “I really thought there was some great cohesion out there, but sometimes it’s about character more than cohesion, and that was evident out there today.”

Ireland v New Zealand Finest Hour
5 November 2016; Conor Murray of Ireland celebrates after scoring his side’s third try against New Zealand during the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago, USA. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Captain Rory Best, who had an outstanding game and led from the front, was elated after the victory: “I couldn’t be prouder of the work we put in. It hasn’t just been the last couple of weeks, it’s been a long time coming and it’s history made. We’re absolutely ecstatic with a marvellous performance from us.”

Steve Hansen, the New Zealand Coach, was quick to praise the Irish effort: “A big congratulations to Ireland, I thought they played outstanding today and thoroughly deserved the win. “It makes up for the last time they probably should have won too.”

He continued: “We allowed ourselves to be dominated and didn’t control possession. That is to Ireland’s credit and we also have ourselves to blame.

White House

“Under the circumstances, with the injuries, that was a pretty brave effort but that was one step too far. Great credit to Ireland, I hope they enjoy their victory.”

The celebration even reached the White House as outgoing Vice President, Joe Biden tweeted his delight at the result. Rob Kearney is his cousin:

Kearney expressed his emotions,”It’s an awesome day for the Irish, not just for this team but for the 28 teams that have gone before us. “We’ve been waiting a long time to beat the All Blacks, it’s such a difficult feat.” he added, “I think we deserved it and after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, there was something in the air.”

This week Ireland face Canada at the Aviva in the second match of their unprecedented four match November series. There will be a much changed side selected for this weeks match. After the intensity of the historic victory at the weekend the players will need two weeks rest before facing the backlash from the wounded Kiwis.

Tickets will be hard to come by for the rematch on the 19th.

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