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History’s burden is now lifted off Irish shoulders after Andy Farrell’s men show incredible mental strength


Ireland celebrate with the trophy after their success against New Zealand at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland celebrate with the trophy after their success against New Zealand at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland celebrate with the trophy after their success against New Zealand at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile



As the clock ticked beyond the hour mark, Ireland were on the ropes, looking in danger of being on the receiving end of yet another knockout blow courtesy of the All Blacks.

Ireland have been down this road so many times that the sense of déjà vu was unavoidable, but what followed was an incredible display of mental fortitude — the likes of which has deserted Irish teams so often in the past. Will Jordan did what he does best by weaving his magic and scoring a try out of nothing from 80 metres to make it a three-point game. That it came on the back of a long-range Johnny Sexton penalty hitting the crossbar was a sickening blow that could have finished Ireland. The home crowd, having booed and jeered their side off at the break, were back on side.

Under the posts, Sexton did his best to bring a sense of calm to proceedings before James Ryan took over. A sloppy penalty concession gifted Sexton a chance to make amends for his earlier missed kick, but Ryan interjected. Sensing the pack had the Kiwi’s number, Ryan instructed his captain to go for the corner rather than the posts.

Early on, Sexton had adopted a similar direct mindset, which came up trumps when the Irish maul demolished New Zealand – Josh van der Flier getting his side off to an ideal start for the third week running.

With that in mind, Ryan gathered his pack before the ensuing lineout worked to perfection, with the driving maul again causing major damage, which allowed Rob Herring crash over for Ireland’s fourth try. Sexton’s conversion put the visitors into a 10-point lead with 15 minutes left.

Suddenly, Ireland went from clinging on to reasserting their dominance in a manner that suggests this team is mentally stronger than many past incarnations. “That was Cheese, James Ryan, he was on it tonight.,” Sexton said. “A couple of times we talked about going for three and he just said, ‘No, go for the corner.’ For him to show that leadership is a big step for him, which is great.”

As they always do, the All Blacks enjoyed a purple patch. How opposition teams manage those tricky periods is what decides whether or not they can topple the Kiwis.

This historic series win reiterates why Ireland are on the right path under Andy Farrell, who deserves immense credit for not only signing up for such a tough tour but also for how he has managed an extended squad from start to finish.

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Having watched his side deliver one of the greatest 40 minutes ever seen from an Ireland team, Farrell was just as pleased with the character his players showed in withstanding the All Blacks onslaught.

“That’s the biggest thing about the tour, the learnings that we get from it as a group of 70 people, 40 players and 30 staff,” Farrell said.

“To have done what we’ve done and to make it so hectic and so difficult, there are so many lessons to be learned and that takes a lot of reflecting over the summer and used in the right way it’s a powerful thing for us going forward.”

To a man, Ireland were outstanding, and while it may be unfair to single out just one, Tadhg Beirne’s contribution was immense.

For a man whose rugby career looked to be over a few years ago when he was delivering pizzas after being let go by Leinster, Beirne scaled dizzying heights with an all-action performance on both sides of the ball.

“It is actually pretty extraordinary, isn’t it,” Beirne said of his side’s achievement. “Two years ago, maybe even a year ago, people would have probably looked at this tour and written it off straight away.

“The journey we have been on has been pretty incredible. To come out here, the first day we got together, the question was asked: ‘Do you believe you can do it?’ Not one person doubted it. We didn’t just make history by winning in New Zealand; we also won back to back, which has not been done before either. And we have also won the series here. It is a credit to everyone involved.

“I am just so proud of everyone involved in it, staff, players, what a tour it has been, the crack we have had. When we have been training and have been switched on; this is just a special day for everyone.”

First-half tries from the outstanding trio of Josh van der Flier, Hugo Keenan and Robbie Henshaw put Ireland into a dream 22-3 lead at the break.

In typical fashion, the All Blacks roared back through scores from Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Jordan, and with Andrew Porter also binned during a chaotic period, Ireland could easily have lost belief and focus.

But they weren’t to be denied this time around. Unburdened by the weight of history, Farrell’s men regrouped and seized their moment in unforgettable fashion.

Scorers – New Zealand: Savea, A Ioane, Jordan try each; J Barrett pen, 2 cons. Ireland: Van der Flier, Keenan, Henshaw, Herring try each; Sexton 2 pens, 3 cons.

New Zealand: J Barrett; W Jordan, R Ioane (R Tuivasa-Sheck 70), D Havili, S Reece (R Mo’unga 61); B Barrett, A Smith (F Fakatava 61); G Bower (K Tu’inukuafe 71), C Taylor (D Coles 61), N Laulala (O Tu’ungafasi h-t,) (Laulala (43); B Retallick (T Vaa’i 51), S Whitelock; A Ioane, S Cane (capt) (D Papalii 63), A Savea.

Ireland: H Keenan; M Hansen, R Henshaw, B Aki (K Earls 69), J Lowe; J Sexton (capt) (J Carbery 76), J Gibson-Park ( Murray 71); A Porter, D Sheehan (R Herring 61), T Furlong (F Bealham 70); T Beirne (K Treadwell 76), J Ryan; P O’Mahony (J Conan 66), J van der Flier (C Healy 53-61, 70), C Doris.

Referee: W Barnes (England).

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