Gordon D’Arcy: Ruthless streak the best part of this victory
Ireland preyed on New Zealand’s inexperience to beat All Blacks at their own game
Ireland celebrate Robbie Henshaw’s try at Soldier Field in Chicago. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photo
I know which camp I’d rather be in before the rematch. The Ireland starting XV will largely get a week off to recover physically and prepare for another monumental challenge, which mentally they now know they are capable of handling. These past few days allowed them to savour a rare and beautifully earned moment.
Then forget about it. It’s done. Never happened.
The All Blacks won’t be beaten in Dublin by the usual preparation or by Ireland feeding off positive vibes. A 2-0 return only gets done the same way history in Chicago was achieved.
Whatever each player did individually - in terms of visualisation be it with Enda McNulty (who doesn’t have a magic wand but so clearly everyone buys into his guidance) or Joe Schmidt - to ensure the collective work over three pitch sessions had them prepared tactically must now be repeated.
Of course Joe will change it up to try to outwit Steve Hansen and the New Zealand coaches once again.
Every Irish player will know the distance they have to travel. It’s just about remembering the path back through the psychological maze.
In elite sport we always talk about living in the moment. Come Saturday week it will be about rediscovering the mental state they discovered in Solider Field. To recreate the level of composure and decision making that allowed Jared Payne throw his skip pass to Simon Zebo, that saw CJ Stander block Owen Franks before Conor Murray’s try, that allowed Joey Carbery arrive to put that touch finder in behind Ben Smith. We could go on and on, mentioning all 21 players who featured.
Because everyone delivered.
Ireland have put enormous pressure on themselves to perform at that level throughout November and into the Six Nations. What a great place for a rugby player to find himself.
People presumed, after seeing the team without Seanie O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, that Joe was targeting the second match against them.
I think Joe Schmidt only focuses on what it directly in front of him.
We saw that in South Africa last June; whoever gets the green jersey is expected to perform to the standard that has been set by the collective. And these are increasingly high standards.
Perhaps automatically - because they have never known anything else - young players like Josh van der Flier, Carbery and Tadhg Furlong understand what is needed.
Schmidt must be taken at his word - O’Brien and O’Mahony were not ready for last Saturday. That - and Joe rewarding Jordi Murphy for his performances in June - show there is deserved loyalty in this Ireland squad.
We saw that with Rob Kearney. Rob repaid Joe’s faith.
It’s funny how perceptions change so dramatically and so quickly.
There were calls for Jared Payne to start at fullback with Garry Ringrose selected and Rob benched, at best.
But Joe knew the immediate and long term value in staying with Kearney and holding Ringrose, O’Brien and possibly O’Mahony - if he doesn’t feature for Munster against the Maoris - until Canada.
New Zealand were the greatest team of all time. Who are now?
They were never deserving of that title after one brilliant Rugby Championship but they have just learned an awful lot about the players who came in to replace the injured front liners.
Then again, so did we. Put enough pressure on any inexperienced player and he will struggle. They should have Brodie Retallick and Israel Dagg available for the rematch but Seanie, Pete and Iain Henderson are not bad forwards to have in reserve.
I think it is also about who learns the most lessons.
So much information can be gathered from Conor Murray’s try.
It is 18-8 to Ireland with 32 minutes on the clock. We are doing to New Zealand what they do to the rest of the world. We keep the ball and wear them down.
Johnny Sexton eventually decides to put up a Garryowen. It bounces and Murray grabs the breaking ball. Here begins the patient process of probing potential weaknesses. Like Aaron Smith as a pillar defender.
Like Patrick Tuipulotu’s ability to cope with the pace of Test match rugby. It’s no problem when you’re on a team that creates the level of intensity while in possession, but defending at pace is another matter entirely.
This sounds so simple but keeping possession is the best way to attack. Some teams don’t want the ball because they are afraid of making a mistake. Especially against New Zealand, as it usually leads to standing under your posts fending off negative vibes.
Murray showed himself as a world class scrumhalf during this passage of play. He guided Ireland down the short side - where Johnny got hurt - and then back openside, dragging in numbers until he sees Aaron Smith as the pillar. Smith calls on Owen Franks to come around the corner. CJ Stander, cleverly, brilliantly, doesn’t let him pass straight away. The more you attack the more decisions go your way.
All other Kiwi eyes are trained on Donnacha Ryan’s charging, and what turned out, decoy run.
But Murray is already gone.
Tuipulotu still has his hands on his knees, blowing hard, as Murray dives over for the try, which Johnny recovers to covert for a 25-8 lead. It can take 20 caps before you feel anyway comfortable playing test match rugby.
Last season I mentioned how beneficial it would be for Ireland if Murray took more control, if Johnny let him, but this game showed they have struck an effective balance. New Zealand were not ready for that.
Not many people were. Ireland needed this. I hoped a second creative element would come from second five-eighth but the scrumhalf taking control works just as well.
No number nine offers Murray’s physicality and his pass looks quicker.
Ireland targeted New Zealand’s obvious weak spots. Their lineout had a disastrous first half. Hardly surprising as they were down three locks and Dev Toner runs a settled, well-oiled set piece. In the centre George Moala really struggled when Ryan Crotty went off injured.
Malakai Fekitoa and Moala are too similar type players to strike a balance in midfield. It showed defensively, especially in contrast to the Robbie Henshaw-Payne understanding that has cemented.
In international rugby, particularly if you get the black jersey you are going to be strong, skillful, fast and fit. Inexperience is your greatest enemy. A couple of New Zealand players looked unfamiliar and even struggled in the face of unbridled Irish desire.
Henshaw, Murray, Stander, Jamie Heaslip sensed as much and went up another level in their intensity.
The ruthlessness we showed is the best part of this victory. And an essential part, because the fifth try was needed.
Nothing in the process leading up to Henshaw crossing is new - from Andrew Trimble dislodging the ball while tackling Liam Squire, to Simon Zebo’s clever kick, to the ravenous appetite shown in the chase, to the neat set play by Jamie and Robbie off the scrum. But for all these moments to appear together and create the game’s decisive moment is special. And hugely encouraging.
The New Zealand wingers, who had a shocker all game, were nicely fished up field.
I know if that was reversed at Joe’s Monday video session he would have been asking Julian Savea why he wasn’t there three steps earlier to get a clearing kick away and why he didn’t run the other way as six Irish jerseys bore down on him.
The confidence that comes from that moment is manifold: Zebo’s muscle memory will ensure he doesn’t shin a ball into touch next time. Murray knows he can tackle anyone in the world after burying Savea over the touchline. If Henshaw had any doubts, which I doubt he did, about powering through a scrumhalf and flanker they are long gone.
So much positivity also comes from the defensive display. Four tries were conceded and these will be forensically examined but it is worth looking at the tries New Zealand didn’t score. There could have been six or seven.
A New Zealand try on 66 minutes, with the score delicately poised at 33-29, and Ireland under all sorts of pressure, could have decided the result. Coles takes a quick lineout despite Dev Toner having clearly formed the Irish lineout. Dev protests but play has moved on. The more you attack the more decisions go your way.
This is how New Zealand hurt teams, by attacking with pace before the opposition or referee can get organised. But Ireland were ready.
When Barrett beats Carbery and draws Henshaw, I fully expected seven points for New Zealand. They had a clear three-on-two with 60 metres to travel. 99 per cent of the time there is only one outcome but Payne and Trimble make their tackles to force the error as Savea knocks on.
All told, I think we are on the cusp of a sustained period of this level of Irish performance.
Success is all about eradicating doubt. In 2007 we should have won the Six Nations with an effective style of rugby we had grown accustomed to playing. Then we tried to change it up before the World Cup. When that didn’t work out in the warm-up games doubt began to fester, increasing game-on-game. We neither went back to the old way nor stuck with the new plan. It showed against Georgia.
This team knows precisely what they are doing. That also showed in South Africa and Chicago.
This is the base level of expectation now. What a great motivational environment for a professional athlete to find himself in. It is now about returning to the well, finding a different emotional tool, but I can visualise the Ireland changing room after great victories. I can still remember the smell of the ground. If I was playing next week I would be desperate to reinforce the achievement with another win. Just so the world fully understands what is happening.
The fitting tribute to Anthony Foley meant for the first time in a long time (with absolutely no intended purpose) the haka was not the main focus before kick-off.
This fed into disproving the many myths surrounding the All Blacks.
They are not fitter than everyone else. The last 15 minutes are not theirs alone. The assumption that power and skill differentiates them from others also comes under scrutiny.
For me, at this level of sport, it has to come down to the mental approach, the willingness to do whatever it takes. Conor Murray’s chase. Any number of actions by other Irish players when it really mattered.
Control the mind and the body can attain wondrous heights. Soldier Field will forever tell us that.
Yeah, I know what camp I’d want to be in this month.