Thursday 22 August 2019

Alan Quinlan: Beating the All Blacks is one of country's greatest ever sporting achievements

Downcast New Zealand players look on following their team's 40-29 defeat. Photo: Getty
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

These are incredible times for Irish sport, not just rugby. We've had great success in the past but Saturday's historic victory has taken it to a new level.

To follow up beating South Africa over there for the first time with clinching a first victory over New Zealand is just unbelievable and you cannot understate the boost that it will give everyone in the country.

For a small nation to achieve something like this is unforgettable and it is certainly one of our greatest ever sporting moments.

When you think of some of the great days like watching Ray Houghton scoring against England and Italy, Pádraig Harrington winning Majors and Sonia O'Sullivan winning an Olympic silver medal.

This is right up there with those moments.

On Saturday, I mentioned that some people believe that the Haka gives New Zealand an unfair advantage but the way in which Ireland faced it in the shape of the number eight was inspiring.

Conor Murray leads the celebrations as Robbie Henshaw touches down for Ireland’s fifth try late in the game. Photo: Getty
Conor Murray leads the celebrations as Robbie Henshaw touches down for Ireland’s fifth try late in the game. Photo: Getty

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I still find Anthony's passing hard to believe but for the Irish players to honour him like that was really special. And then to go out and deliver a performance like that. The players didn't get caught up in it emotionally and instead used it to fuel their fire. Anthony would have been so proud.

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I felt that New Zealand were beatable but, like most other people, I genuinely didn't think that Saturday would be the day. How happy I was to be proven wrong!

We are lucky to have Joe Schmidt as our coach and his tactical masterclass on Saturday was on another level again. To a man, the players were outstanding but Schmidt deserves a huge amount of credit.

You think back to 12 months ago when we limped out of the World Cup quarter-final. With the provinces not going all that well either, there was plenty of doom and gloom around the place but the players never lost belief in what Schmidt was preaching to them.

It was the same when I was playing. You don't get angry with people in the media or people outside if there is criticism coming your way. You have two choices: it either inspires you or you sink. You can use it as a motivating factor and that's what Ireland did on Saturday.

They perfectly executed what was a brilliant game plan set out by Schmidt. We have the best coach in world rugby and there is no doubt about that.

The players know inside out what is expected of them. From a tactical point of view, they know exactly where they're supposed to be, who's hitting what rucks, what support lines are supposed to be run, how they resource the ball and one of the big things is their discipline.

Joe Schmidt reaches up to shake Devin Toner’s hand after the game at Soldier Field on Saturday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt reaches up to shake Devin Toner’s hand after the game at Soldier Field on Saturday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Schmidt has created a unique philosophy where the players take ownership of their actions and no one wants to let the side down by giving away cheap penalties. There is a zero-tolerance policy with that and they reaped the rewards for only giving away four penalties against the best team in the world.

There was a little bit of negativity about Ireland's style of play and Schmidt could have walked away next year when his contract expired but the fact that he has signed an extension until the 2019 World Cup proves that he believes there is even more growth to come from this group of players.

Players want to be inspired by coaches and Schmidt does that and so too does Andy Farrell. The entire coaching team, Simon Easterby, Greg Feek and Richie Murphy, should take a bow.

They didn't play with any fear and while they obviously believe in themselves, it all stems from the coaching staff who provide the detail and the information.

It almost seems unfair to single out individuals because the collective effort was so impressive but Conor Murray was just exceptional. He deserves a special mention. His delivery was first class and he seems to turn up all over the field. He has turned into a crucial leader for club and country.

Rob Kearney has taken a fair bit of flak but he's had a lot of injuries over the last couple of years. He set a high standard for himself and they did drop but he was back to his best on Saturday.

A lot of people wanted to see Garry Ringrose starting with Jared Payne at full-back but how could you doubt Schmidt?

He picked the guys who he believed could do a job for him and they delivered. Once again he was fully vindicated in his selection. The challenge now is to go and maintain that standard. People have been talking about this All Blacks team as being the greatest of all time but they are not and Ireland proved that. That's not to take anything away from Ireland but Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were massive losses in the second-row.

During the Rugby Championship, Justin Marshall said that New Zealand could put out their second-string team and still beat any international team in the world. Not quite.

There have been plenty of great Irish players who have never managed to beat New Zealand. This group managed to do it by playing them at their own game.

A day that will never be forgotten.

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