Sunday 6 November 2016

Ireland's 111 years of waiting is over to beat the All Blacks


As Rory Best declared in his on-field post-match interview at a rowdy Soldier Field in Chicago, it’s been a long time coming. Just the 111 years, that’s all. But at last, that black stain in Irish rugby has been removed, with a first ever victory over the All Blacks in 29 attempts.

Fully deserved it was too. Soldier Field crackled with atmosphere, vast swathes of the 63,300 bedecked in green watched Ireland dominate vast swathes of the first-half and kept counter-punching in a riotous rollercoaster of a second half, ultimately outscoring the back-to-back world champions and runaway winners of the Rugby Championship by five tries to four, and thus end their world record 18-match sequence of test wins.

It was a very complete performance, as it had to be.

As ever, the lines in the sand were drawn up front in the setpieces and at the breakdown. Fittingly, it started with the foot soldiers, the work-rate of the tight five - the tireless Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner - was immense. The scrum was superb, and their line-out outperformed New Zealand’s. Best’s decision-making, in tandem with Johnny Sexton and the other team leaders, was superb.

Despite conceding four tries as the All Blacks threatened another of their damned comebacks, there was superb discipline in defence. CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip had huge games, as did Josh van der Flier, who was Ireland’s leading tackler despite only being on the pitch from the 26th minute.

There was none bigger than Conor Murray, who bestrode the game peerlessly. Sexton was Sexton, and Robbie Henshaw overcame an early error to have a stupendously muscular game. Rob Kearney and Simon Zebo were magnificent in the air, and though living off slim rations, Andrew Trimble made his presence felt as he does.



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