Sunday 21 January 2018

WATCH: 'Historic victory over the All Blacks is our greatest ever achievement' - Luke Fitzgerald

Luke Fitzgerald has ranked Saturday's win above any other achieved by an Irish team
Luke Fitzgerald has ranked Saturday's win above any other achieved by an Irish team
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Former Leinster, Ireland and Lions star Luke Fitzgerald believes the momentous victory over the All Blacks at Soldier Field in Chicago is our greatest ever achievement in rugby.

Grand Slam victories, Triple Crown triumphs, beating Australia and South Africa on their own turf, all pale in comparison to Saturday's heroics in Illinois, according to the 29-year-old.

He explained that given the calibre of the opposition and the 111-year wait to beat them, this win was the best we've ever managed.

"The fact that we haven't done it in 111 years probably puts it right up there with our most memorable sporting moments," he told Independent.ie.

"Obviously, I have a vested interest in saying the Grand Slam, it might have been a bit more special and there was silverware at the end of that which made it very, very special.

"But I think given the enormity of the task and how good they've been. This New Zealand team has been on a real hot streak, so I think this is probably our greatest ever sporting achievement as a rugby team."

Fitzgerald was full of praise for the gameplan formulated by Joe Schmidt and his backroom team and how it was executed by the players.

"The great thing about someone like Joe and I think the reason why we let one go in 2013 against them in the Aviva and the reason why he's been involved in two Irish teams that have come very close to beating New Zealand is his focus on the technical side of the game," he added.

"Irish teams are always going to come out and want to do well in front of their home crowd or wherever they may be because we're passionate people but the thing he's brought is a real focus on the technical areas of the game.

"It looked to me like he targeted the two New Zealand wingers in the air and the guys did a great job there. Andrew Trimble and Simon Zebo made some incredible takes.

"In the lineout, they were missing two big players in (Brodie) Retallick and (Sam) Whitelock but we really took advantage of that. They were some areas I thought were key.

"I suppose Andy Farrell's influence defensively, they didn't allow New Zealand to get that much momentum, especially in the middle of the park or close to the ruck.

"They are really important things to do against them because if they have momentum they are really hard to stop."

Fitzgerald singled out Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw for special acclaim for their displays.

"I thought he (Furlong) had a special, special game. The thing that Tadhg has over (Mike) Ross is his speed around the park. I think at one stage he might have have chased down Ben Smith. I'd have had trouble doing that myself.

"The scrum was fantastic all day which is a big, big part of the game. If your set-piece isn't good against New Zealand it's pretty much game over straight away.

"To touch on Robbie's game, I thought he was superb and his try took unbelievable strength. Amazing all game.

"He looks so, so fit and strong.

"He's a pretty experienced international player at this stage and I thought he really came of age."

While a repeat victory over the Kiwis on Saturday week may be over-ambitious, Fitzgerald is not ruling it out.

"Our tails we be up and the real challenge will be not being complacent and try to take advantage of a brilliant performance. All the things we did well, we can do well again. We didn't try to do anything spectacular, there was just a real good focus on the basics, our defence was really good, we targeted a couple of areas where we thought they were weak and we took advantage of that.

"I'd be really confident that we can put in definitely a good performance again, even if it's a huge ask to get two wins over them but anything is possible."

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