Ireland 29, New Zealand 20
A year ago, Andy Farrell glared into a laptop from beneath the Stade de France and questioned his team’s belief levels.
On the back of the IRFU’s World Cup review identifying “performance anxiety” as one of the causes of the team’s failure in Japan, the coach worried that his side had “gone into their shells” with the Six Nations on the line.
Within days, news filtered through that high performance coach Gary Keegan had been drafted in to help with the mental side of the game. Safe to say, he’s having an impact.
On Saturday, confidence coursed through this Irish team as they relentlessly took their game to the All Blacks.
Keegan has been in meetings with the players, while he’s also doing one-to-one work with individuals when needed.
That work is paying off, while Farrell believes the impact of beating New Zealand in such style will stand to his players as they look forward to the visit of Argentina and the Six Nations beyond.
“It’s massive, obviously,” he said. “Last week was really good for us, because we played some good stuff but at the same time we were able to highlight, because of the victory, how we could get better.
“We had a great week, just concentrating on ourselves and that was the most pleasing thing, that we put our game on the field.
“Along with Gary Keegan, it’s about making sure we’re calm enough to be ourselves because the game can take its own way emotionally.
“We’re getting pretty good at staying in the moment, being nice and controlled. Trusting ourselves, whether we’ve had a purple patch or things have been really getting back on point and sticking to the process and keep believing in what we are trying to achieve.
“I suppose that is the crux of it really.
“Along with how we prepare for the week, as a team and individually, that we make sure we can perform, that we are not just turning up for things where we are trying things to happen magically that we should be better at.”
With the minds attuned, the skills can kick in and Farrell was full of praise for his side who could have scored more than the three tries they managed through James Lowe, Rónan Kelleher and Caelan Doris.
“Our traditional way as a nation – I think everyone in the northern hemisphere really – it’s about rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in,” Farrell said.
“We’re better than that, we’re skilful, we’re able to make good decisions and play a varied type of game, play whatever is in front of us.
“Just the ability to stay calm and play the game we want to play is helping us with our execution.”
They took the game to New Zealand brilliantly, yet found themselves five points down at half-time thanks to Codie Taylor’s try which punished their one major malfunction.
After half-time, they scored 24 points and mixed their tactical excellence with some street-smarts as they slowed the last quarter down and frustrated their visitors.
New Zealand were always in the game and might have gone ahead were it not for a forward pass from Rieko Ioane to his brother Akira.
Instead, Joey Carbery closed it to the joy of the home faithful. Yet, while they celebrated wildly, Ireland pledged they wouldn’t get carried away with this one-off win.
“This is only the beginning,” Hugo Keenan said. “There’s no silverware, we haven’t won anything. It means a lot to us, a lot to the fans, having them back. But it’s only the start of a long journey for us to the World Cup.
“That’s what we’ve been building towards. There’s a few stages to get us there. We want to finish this block well against Argentina.
“We want to make it three from three, that’s the next job and we’ll be quickly turning the page to that and then into that next season.
“It’s not about resting on our laurels. For me personally, it’s about keep improving and keep my name in that team-sheet for more days like today.”
IRELAND – H Keenan; A Conway, G Ringrose, B Aki (K Earls 72), J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (J Carbery 65), J Gibson-Park (C Murray 72); A Porter (C Healy 76), R Kelleher (R Herring 59), T Furlong (F Bealham 65); I Henderson (T Beirne 48), J Ryan; C Doris, J Conan, J van der Flier (P O’Mahony 59).
NEW ZEALAND – J Barrett; W Jordan, R Ioane, A Lienert-Brown (D Havili’I 39), S Reece; B Barrett (R Mo’unga HIA 22), TJ Peranara; J Moody (K Tu’inukuafe 53), C Taylor (D Coles 53), N Laulala (T Lomax 53); B Retallick, S Whitelock (capt); E Blackadder (D Coles 20-24) (A Ioane 61), A Savea, D Papali’i.
REF – Luke Pearce (England)