Ireland pay tribute to Anthony Foley after historic win against New Zealand
Published 06/11/2016 | 07:46
Ireland have hailed their historic maiden victory over New Zealand as a triumph not just 111 years in the making - but also as tribute to Anthony Foley.
Ireland thumped the back-to-back world champions - who were on a record 18-match winning streak - 40-29 at Chicago's Soldier Field on Saturday, to claim their first success over the All Blacks at the 29th attempt.
Captain Rory Best paid tribute to all the Ireland skippers before him who had thrown everything at beating New Zealand to no avail.
But both the Ulster hooker and head coach Joe Schmidt took the time to admit Ireland's win was inspired by Munster head coach Foley, who died aged 42 last month.
The Munster players formed a figure eight when facing New Zealand's Haka before kick-off, in tribute to Foley's playing number, and promptly channelled the indefatigable former Ireland captain.
"I think it was something that we just talked about through the management to the players," said Best of the touching tribute to Foley.
"I think a lot's been made of the really sad news that Munster got a few weeks ago and this was the national team's first time together since his passing. So we felt that it was the right thing to do and then to put the Munster body to the front that.
"It just felt like the right thing to do and it was our way, as an Irish national team, just to show a mark of respect to Axel (Foley) and his family."
Foley won 63 caps for Ireland as a barnstorming but also tactically shrewd number eight. He also helped mastermind Munster's rise to the top of the European tree, as the Thomond Park province claimed two Heineken Cup titles.
The 42-year-old died on October 16, before Munster's Champions Cup clash with Racing 92 in Paris.
Munster later dispatched Glasgow 38-17 the day after Foley's funeral .
If that proved Munster's on-field testament to their former totem, so too was Ireland's first win over New Zealand an homage to one of the country's great servants.
Ireland ended their 111-year wait for a win over New Zealand in style, Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Robbie Henshaw all grabbing tries at Soldier Field.
Just three days after the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year wait for a World Series victory, Ireland harnessed a city bearing untold omens to end their own haunting hoodoo.
Ireland's class of 2016 assured their place in the history books, with Best aware of his personal accolades as captain - but more concerned with honouring the late Foley.
"Obviously, there was a lot of emotion and the Munster boys got a lot from that," said Best.
"It was just an emotionally charged day for us. Ultimately, we did a lot of our work earlier in the week so we could draw on a bit of that emotion.
"You've got to take a moment every time you make history.
"It's quite hard to sit here and talk about what's a massive thing for us.
"It's a massive mark of the respect to the All Blacks that beating them means so much to us because they are such a quality side and they've shown it.
"There's been a lot of great teams and great players that have got really close but just haven't been able to finish it.
"When they came back to a four-point game, we had the wherewithal to keep attacking them, that was great.
"We're a tight group, we're very well coached and that showed today."
For Kiwi native Schmidt, this is a victory to further confirm his place as Ireland's greatest coach of all time.
While hailing the tributes to Foley, Schmidt also admitted Ireland must quickly refocus - with New Zealand to face yet again, in Dublin on November 19.
"I really thought the players did themselves proud, but to be fair they did Axel proud and his family, and they did their country proud," said Schmidt.
"I actually said something inadvertently during the week like 'If you win here I don't really care too much about what you do for the rest of the series'. So I've put my foot in it there!
"There's an alcohol ban for the players on the flight home, but that will probably be lifted as soon as the boys sit down."
Jordi Murphy looks set for an extended spell on the sidelines with a knee ligament problem, while New Zealand's Ryan Crotty tore his hamstring, and centre George Moala suffered a serious elbow injury.
All three are unlikely to feature again across the autumn internationals.
New Zealand boss Steve Hansen hailed Ireland's victory, admitting the All Blacks had got out of jail in the last-gasp 24-22 win in Dublin in 2013.
"Inevitably it's going to happen, it's sport," said Hansen of the end of New Zealand's record winning streak.
"We've got to make sure the loss isn't wasted, we've got to make sure it takes us somewhere where we get better.
"It was going to happen sooner or later. They deserved to win in 2013, and they deserved it here."