Inspirational Ireland secure a first-ever win over the All Blacks on home soil in a thriller at the Aviva
Ireland 16 New Zealand 9
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said that the winner of this game could justifiably claim to the world’s best team and, while they remain No 2 on the rankings, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are top of the world.
The Six Nations champions made a major World Cup statement with their second win over the All Blacks in two years and for the first time in Dublin thanks to Jacob Stockdale’s superb second-half try and a supreme defensive effort that kept the visitors tryless for 80 minutes.
At the end of a bruising Test match, the Aviva Stadium rose to salute a supreme effort that saw Peter O’Mahony (twice), Kieran Marmion and Josh van der Flier make sensational defensive plays during the expected final quarter onslaught.
Like 2013, the men in black threw everything at the final phase of play as they went in search of a draw but they couldn’t breach the green wall this time as Brodie Retallick knocked on in injury time.
There would be no Ryan Crotty moment, rather another piece of history for Irish rugby in what is a golden age.
That it was achieved without Conor Murray, Seán O’Brien, Dan Leavy and Robbie Henshaw made it all the more impressive. There was none of the violence of the return match two years ago, but it was brutal in its own way.
The pressure came on almost immediately as a series of kicks culminated in Beauden Barrett’s clever effort forcing Rob Kearney to slide into touch with the ball deep in his own ’22.
Schmidt had vividly recalled New Zealand’s start two years ago and this time his team survived the first onslaught, defending through 12 phases before CJ Stander and van der Flier got in over the ball and forced a penalty.
A sloppy piece of ill-discipline from Brodie Retallick handed Ireland their first trip into enemy territory and they emerged with three points when the All Black line came up too fast under their own posts.
Again, they had to survive a period of pressure in their own half but the visitors failed to protect the ball at the base of a ruck and Tadhg Furlong pounced and another penalty – this time from Sam Whitelock - gave Ireland another chance to attack.
They were building nicely too, until captain Rory Best spilled the ball and the world champions countered up the right and a scrambling Stockdale was penalised for holding on too long which allowed Barrett to cancel out Sexton’s opener.
The world champions’ error count was ticking up, with Barrett knocking on and, when the Ireland forwards combined to send CJ Stander up the middle, Liam Squire went high and a Whitelock offside handed Sexton the chance to kick to the corner.
Stander, who was enjoying his best game for Ireland, got the ball over the line, before Rob Kearney had an effort chalked off for a knock-on and eventually Ireland settled for three points from the collapsed scrum.
Barrett levelled with a drop-goal with Wayne Barnes playing advantage for a penalty conceded by Best.
Stockdale won the kick-off, but Ireland couldn’t make their territory count as Ardie Savea got in over the ball and forced a penalty after a looser than usual set of phases.
The pace of the first-half began to tell as the interval approached and Ireland’s scrum continued to have the upper hand, forcing a penalty for Sexton to kick to the corner with points on offer.
They messed up the maul transfer but held the ball long enough to force an off-side penalty, the second in the movement and while Sexton made it 9-6, Wayne Barnes kept his cards in his pocket.
That gave Ireland a narrow half-time lead but they almost threw it away when Stockdale’s cheeky chip over the top went horribly wrong and Kieran Read let him off the hook by knocking on after charging the kick down. The try looked inevitable.
Ireland were making the kind of errors they hadn’t been making before half-time, but Peter O’Mahony made up for a knock-on with a timely poach-penalty after a huge carry from Savea.
And the home side capitalised and gave themselves the cushion their dominance deserved. From the lineout, Sexton executed a switch-play with Bundee Aki and he found Stockdale on the left. The Ulster try-machine chipped over the top and out-sprinted Aaron Smith to the line for his 12th international try in 14 caps. Sexton nailed the conversion to make it a 10-point game.
The All Blacks were rattled and a Retallick knock-on under pressure from Best resulted in an Ireland lineout on the 5m line.
But Scott Barrett got up to disrupt the lineout, allowing the men in black to emerge with the ball and clear the danger.
Rob Kearney was blessed to escape without being sin-binned for tackling Rieko Ioane in the air.
The penalty allowed New Zealand get Ioane into the game on an attacking footing and Marmion did brilliantly to hunt him down after Dane Coles’ throw over the top caught the Irish napping at the tail.
Kearney had to be alert to get to a Savea chip after the openside had poached another Irish ball, while O’Mahony somehow snatched the ball from Ben Smith’s grasp as the pressure grew and grew.
Ireland were looking stretched as the world champions ramped up the pace, but the Munster captain again came to his team’s rescue with a brilliant steal on the deck – supported by Best – that alleviated the pressure.
It was his final act as a first-half injury finally caught up on him and, with Sexton also struggling, the final quarter was looking ominous despite the 10 point lead.
Van der Flier was the next man to pull off a miracle defensive play, somehow hanging on to Beauden Barrett’s coat-tails as he prepared to turn the after-burners on.
A Sexton high tackle on Richie Mo’unga allowed his opposite number narrow the margin and he made it 16-9 with a tough kick.
An Irish visit to the New Zealand half came and went with Whitelock picking off Seán Cronin’s throw, but Luke McGrath and Stander forced a turnover at the other end as the clock ticked into the last 10 minutes.
Stockdale snuck past Beauden Barrett up the left, but his kick was easily dealt with by Mo’unga.
Still, Ireland recognised that they needed to play in the right areas. Luke McGrath pinned the All Blacks back in their own ’22 and a poor Beauden Barrett pass forced Ben Smith on to the back foot and Stockdale forced him into touch.
But again, Cronin was picked off – this time by Retallick – as the game grew more frenetic.
It finished with a repeat of the Alamo effort from five years ago, but there was to be no heart-break for the hosts. Instead, they managed history and the world awaits.
IRELAND - -R Kearney (J Larmour 66); K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton (J Carbery 77), K Marmion (L McGrath 59); C Healy (J McGrath 52), R Best (capt) (S Cronin 65), T Furlong (A Porter 65); D Toner (I Henderson 62), J Ryan; P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.
NEW ZEALAND – D McKenzie (R Mo’unga 56); B Smith, J Goodhue, R Crotty (A Lienert-Brown 62), R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Peranara 58); K Tu’inukuafe (O Tuungafasi 47), C Taylor (D Coles 47), O Franks (N Laulala 47); B Retallick, S Whitelock; L Squire (S Barrett 32), A Savea (M Todd 74), K Read (capt).
Ref – W Barnes (England)