Tuesday 6 December 2016

Brent Pope: Ireland can put New Zealand to the sword again at the Aviva

Read Brent Pope's exclusive column every week in The Herald

Brent Pope

Published 07/11/2016 | 19:39

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Simon Zebo of Ireland celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and Simon Zebo of Ireland celebrate victory after the International rugby match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago

During the week they had blue dye poured in the Chicago River in celebration of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series again after over 100 years of constant disappointments.

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That blue water will now be Emerald green after the Windy City was the venue for another historical slice of sporting immortality.

Ireland finally overcame a century-old All Black hoodoo in a performance of superior defence and skill.

In the end the heroic Irish players thoroughly deserved their win, and at one stage you actually felt that the mighty All Blacks – without a functioning  lineout and making plenty of uncharacteristic mistakes – wouldn’t make much of a dent in Ireland’s half-time lead.

When Connor Murray scooted over for Ireland’s third try, you felt it was going to be Ireland’s day.

But the All Blacks are not back-to-back world champions without good reason, and two superb tries in the space of six minutes allowed them a least a fighting chance to get back into the game.

The All Blacks had their mojo back and were starting to build phases and get some parity of possession.

However, Ireland’s defence held firm with some excellent work from all the Irish players but especially Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and the fantastic midfield pairing  of Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw.

Both Payne and Henshaw were instrumental in shutting down an All Black back line that struggled to play the type of rugby that they normally do.

That was master coach Joe Schmidt’s plan – to put the All Blacks  under pressure and out of their comfort zone. It worked a treat.

At full back, Rob Kearney had his best game in years, especially in the air, and was supported well by Simon Zebo.

The loss of the All Black second rows a couple of weeks ago saw Ireland with the luxury of being able to kick for touch a lot more than in other years, as time after time the All Blacks’ lineout ball went Ireland’s way.

Devin Toner’s superior height blocked the tail of the lineout for New Zealand so well that the Kiwis were forced to always try and find their only real jumper, Kieran Read, in the middle or front of the lineout.

That in turn meant slower ball to their backline.

One tackle may have changed the game, however. When the All Blacks charged up the field and Andrew Trimble got a single hand to the rampaging Julien Savea and brought him down.

After that Ireland relieved the pressure and the All Blacks were starting to run out of ideas. Joey Carbery came on for Johnny Sexton and did not play like a man who was making his test debut against the best team in the world.

His passing was sublime and he oozed confidence. It is Roy of the Rovers stuff for a player who was  playing club rugby last year. He must be covered in bruises from pinching himself.

What a day to be Irish in Chicago – or anywhere in the world for that matter – after creating rugby history and denying this almost unbeatable rugby team another winning streak.

This win will match that of the Cubs for sporting shocks, and will rank as one of Ireland’s most famous ever sporting victories.

Every single player, as well as Ireland’s coaching staff, can draw immense pride from the fact that as a rugby nation, Ireland is now a serious contender.

All Ireland really needed was some self-belief to beat a team they had never defeated and they have it in spades now.

It also raises the real possibility of another win against the same opposition at the Aviva in two weeks’ time, if Ireland can replicate the same performance of skill and determination. Congratulations Ireland.

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