Respect is earned not bestowed in New Zealand rugby, a statement that was borne out not just by the magnanimous words of All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and captain Sam Cane in the aftermath of Ireland’s 2-1 series victory but also in the local media.
Andy Farrell’s Ireland side were lauded not only for their victories in Dunedin and Wellington after losing the first Test in Auckland but in the rugby they played en route to creating sporting history. That acknowledgment crystallises the scale of the achievement.
The New Zealand Herald columnist Gregor Paul, writing under the headline, Ireland are the legendary team the All Blacks used to be, acknowledged: “Ireland have played with the speed, vision and daring that the All Blacks used to, and currently want to, but simply don’t have all the nuts and pieces to get it right.
“They go home deserved winners — the dominant partners now in the relationship and hopefully some of what they brought will rub off on the All Blacks.”
Liam Napier, in the same newspaper, wrote: “Before the pitchforks and effigies emerge from the angry mob demanding coaching heads it is the height of ignorance to not first acknowledge Andy Farrell’s world-class, intelligent, skilled Irish team that has expertly picked apart the All Blacks over the past two weeks.
“The tourists fully deserve the recognition and acclaim coming their way. At the end of their long season this was a brutal five-match tour. Ireland emerged out the other side grinning from ear to ear. And they are sure to celebrate in style.
“For the All Blacks, though, the numbers don’t lie. They are grim, in fact. Unwanted records keep mounting. This week there were no cards for the All Blacks to blame, either. This is the first time in 24 years the All Blacks have lost successive home tests — John Hart’s 1998 side the last team to endure such a run, and the first time since 1994 they’ve lost a home series.
“Four wins from their past nine tests strongly suggests something is broken within this All Blacks team. The empire is crumbling. Something needs to change. The wolves are at the door for Ian Foster, who now has a 16 from 24 record, and his coaching team.”
A disorderly queue of former internationals and media has formed to fillet Foster and the beleaguered head coach can’t have been helped by a statement from New Zealand Rugby boss Mark Robinson. It read: “Congratulations to the Irish team for their well-deserved win last night but clearly the performance across the series for the All Blacks was not acceptable as we know they have reflected. We all know there is a huge amount of work to do.
“Our focus now is to work with Ian and his team to understand thoroughly in advance of the Rugby Championship what is needed to improve performance and where to from here. We will begin this work immediately.” Well, not quite because a planned media conference with one of the All Blacks coaching team was cancelled.
Former players like Justin Marshall and Steve Devine have expressed their misgivings not only about the coaching ticket but also the composition of the team. The introspection will gather pace over the coming days with the clamour for Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson to replace Foster likely to grow.
Jamie Wall, writing under the headline, Rugby: When you accept mediocrity this is what happens, on RNZ website suggested: “Ireland have gone from being a fun little sideshow to a team that possesses a majority of players that have beaten the All Blacks more times than they have lost to them.
“A child born last year in New Zealand has had to endure more All Black losses to Ireland in their lifetime than a 100-year-old who passed away in 2019.”
He later ventured: “Irish flanker Peter O’Mahony even felt bold enough during the second test to call Sam Cane, a sh*t Richie McCaw,’ a comment that should have seen him served with some form of retaliation. Instead, it is just something that rattled around in All Blacks’ heads as they made visit upon visit behind their posts.”
For Ireland though, as they fly home, there is nothing but respect, earned on the pitches in New Zealand where it matters most.