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Was Ireland’s win over New Zealand their best against the All Blacks?

Was Ireland’s win over New Zealand their best against the All Blacks?

Ireland New Zealand wins

You wait 111 years for a win over New Zealand and then three come along in five years. This really has been a golden age for Ireland in their rivalry with the All Blacks.

The question is though, was Saturday’s 29-20 win at the Aviva Stadium the best of the lot?

To work it out, let’s look back at all three matches and explore what made each one so special in its own right.

Breaking the duck in Chicago

Something special was clearly taking place in Chicago in 2016, with one of the local baseball teams, the Chicago Cubs ending their 108-year wait for a World Series success.

Three days later, Ireland finally secured their maiden win over the All Blacks, after 111 years of trying. The 40-29 success was a stunning performance on a poignant day for Irish rugby.

Coming a month after Ireland great and Munster head coach Anthony Foley had suddenly passed away, Ireland lined up in the shape of a number eight (Foley’s position) during the haka.

Anthony Foley Ireland

While George Moala went over early for New Zealand, the rest of the first half was all Ireland, taking advantage of Joe Moody’s sin-binning to score tries through Jordi Murphy and CJ Stander.

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Conor Murray then dummied his way through for a third try and Ireland led 25-8 at the break.

Half-time did not shift the momentum, with Simon Zebo going over in the corner for Ireland’s fourth try to make it 30-8.

It was at this point that New Zealand rallied, TJ Perenara, Ben Smith and Scott Barrett all scoring to cut the deficit to four points at 33-29.

Three years after the heart-breaking loss in Dublin when Ryan Crotty went over for the winning score with the clock in the red, there must have been fears of a repeat. Instead, Robbie Henshaw powered over after Jamie Heaslip had picked from the base of the scrum and Ireland put the result beyond even the All Blacks.

Robbie Henshaw Ireland

The first win will always be remembered, even more so because of the unique occasion and the manner of the victory.

Confirmation in Dublin

While the Chicago victory was not a complete anomaly, it was nevertheless something of a surprise. A few weeks later in Dublin, New Zealand got their revenge in a full-blooded affair.

By 2018, Ireland had established themselves as the best team in the northern hemisphere, with a Grand Slam under their belts and a series win in Australia.

When the All Blacks came to town, it was not necessarily a meeting of equals, but it was a battle to determine who the best side in the world were.

The first half was a titanic battle, Ireland twice taking the lead with Sexton penalties, only for New Zealand to hit back on each occasion through Beauden Barrett.

Ireland’s scrum dominance earned them three more points and a 9-6 half-time lead in a game where the defences were almost impossible to break down.

Jacob Stockdale Ireland

Seven minutes after half-time, Ireland found the way through. It was Joe Schmidt special, the ball off the top of the lineout, Sexton on the switch to Aki who passed back towards Jacob Stockdale on the blindside. He raced forwards, chipped over the top and regathered to score the only try of the game.

Barrett cut the deficit to seven, but New Zealand could never find a way through as Ireland held on for a 16-9 win, their first against the All Blacks on home soil.

A coming of age at the Aviva

The win in 2018 was the crowning glory of the Joe Schmidt era, but when the All Blacks beat Ireland comfortably in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals, it felt like the end of an era for Irish rugby.

In two years under Andy Farrell though, the rebuild has been under-the-radar and then very evident, culminating in Saturday’s 29-20 success.

Of all the wins over New Zealand, this was the most dominant. Even in the first half when the All Blacks went in 10-5 ahead, it was Ireland who played most of the rugby and probably should have been clear on the scoreboard. One try was chalked off, New Zealand hung on for ages at the end of the half, and even the All Black try came out of nowhere.

James Lowe moments Ireland

Ireland are not the only team to have had the better of a half against New Zealand but been on the wrong end of the scoreboard, but what was impressive here was the way they turned the screw after the break.

Ronan Kelleher forced his way over after his double movement had seen Tadhg Furlong’s score ruled out in the first half, and then Caelan Doris capped off a brilliant display with a lovely try.

Even when Will Jordan went over, again somewhat out of the blue, Ireland were able to wrest back control. The only scare came when the Ioane brothers combined to send Akira over, and who knows what would have happened if that pass had not been forward?

But to keep the All Blacks to three real try-scoring opportunities takes some doing, and even more so to run out comfortable winners on a day when you have not been clinical yourselves.

Johnny Sexton was right when he said Ireland cannot let this be their peak, they have to keep building. The third win in five against the All Blacks is definitely a great platform.

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