Ireland and All Blacks now one of rugby’s premier rivalries

Altogether more difficult challenge awaits Ireland ahead of three-match tour in 2022

James Lowe celebrates after making a tackle during the match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph:  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

James Lowe celebrates after making a tackle during the match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

 

Lo and behold, Ireland against New Zealand has become quite the rivalry, one of the best in the modern game. This third win in the last five meetings and five years was the most compelling, the most complete. Simply the best.

It wasn’t always thus. Indeed, over the previous 111 years and 28 meetings it was anything but.

The following would have been a relatively positive reaction from the losing coach: “I thought that we did really, really well in our defence; hanging in there, frustrating them.”

Or this from the losing captain: “It’s hard in Test matches when you are camped in your own 22.”

Except that, on Saturday, these were the words of Ian Foster and his captain Sam Whitelock, with the former even going so far as to declare this Irish display the best he has encountered in his time as head coach.

As a result of Ireland’s pulsating 29-20 win over the All Blacks at a feverish Aviva on Saturday, the latter have been deposed as the world’s number one ranked side by South Africa while Andy Farrell’s team will rise to third on the back of this seventh successive victory.

Josh Van der Flier, Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Furlong and Jamison Gibson-Park celebrate with Caelan Doris after his try. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Josh Van der Flier, Garry Ringrose, Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Furlong and Jamison Gibson-Park celebrate with Caelan Doris after his try. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

After the breakthrough win in Chicago five years ago, Joe Schmidt ventured that Ireland may have “poked the bear”, which proved true a fortnight later, and the same applied in the World Cup quarter-finals after the 2018 win in the Aviva.

A year on, the All Blacks’ sense of vengeance was no less acute than it had been after a mere fortnight. They don’t forget their defeats, and certainly won’t have when Ireland come calling to the Land of the Long White Cloud for a three-Test tour next July and when, in all probability, the three Tests will be sold out.

Have Ireland gone and poked the bear again?

“We definitely have, no doubt about it,” admitted Farrell with a wry smile on Saturday night. “History shows, the next time you play against the All Blacks [after beating them], that’s the most difficult.”

But it’s time to boldly go there once again.

Greatest scare

Beginning in 2013, when a vintage All Blacks survived their greatest scare in the fixture at that point, four of the last six meetings have been in Dublin and the others in Chicago and Tokyo. It will be Ireland’s first trek to New Zealand in a decade, since the All Blacks completed a series whitewash with a 60-0 win in Hamilton.

“That’s part of our journey; it’s a great one and we want to test ourselves against the best,” said Farrell. “We had 50,000 people being behind us here tonight. Getting the victory against them is all well and good but we know it’s going to be harder down the track.

“The more we’re going to play these guys the better we’re going to get. It’ll be a tough tour, I’ve no doubt they’ll come firing back at us in the first Test. But it’s about us finding out about ourselves. It’s the place that we want to be.”

Following that against Argentina will be difficult. It may be a sell-out in light of this victory, but it will still be a Sunday afternoon and it’s not the All Blacks. No haka to get the crowd seated and singing.

Hugo Keenan celebrates at the final whistle with James Lowe. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Hugo Keenan celebrates at the final whistle with James Lowe. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Los Pumas will be as cussed and bristling as ever. They stretched France to the limits in a proper Test match last Saturday week, forcing Les Bleus to dig deep with the help of their bench.

They’ve been playing abroad since a two-Test tour to Wales in July, drawing the first and winning the second Test, and ended a seven-game losing sequence with a comfortable 37-16 win, five tries to one, over Italy last Saturday in Rome.

Farrell knows los Pumas will be up for their final game of a demanding year, as ever.

“One hundred per cent, but we want to finish on a high. It’s our last game. The aim is to be as consistently good as we possibly can be. That’s the hardest thing in any sport, to be consistently at your best.

Favourite

“It’s tough, particularly when people are chasing you down. It’s a lot easier to be the underdog than to be the favourite, to keep your feet on the ground. We have to train well this week, make sure we prepare as we have over the last few weeks. It’s going to stand to us.”

Only 24 players of the 39-man squad have been used to date, so there are liable to be changes, although Farrell daren’t be too radical.

“We’ll see. Like I said at the start of the campaign there might be a balancing act when it comes to peoples’ tanks, with injuries etc.

“So, we’ll dust ourselves down. It’s an eight-day turnaround, we’ll turn up on Monday evening and see where the land lies.”

The land lies well this morning.

For sure there were considerable factors in Ireland’s favour last Saturday, not the least of them being the unleashing of a first capacity crowd at the Aviva in 543 days.

Perhaps too, the All Blacks’ tanks were running a little empty at the end of a long, arduous year which has had them away from home since August.

Yet the suspicion lurked beforehand that the All Blacks aren’t remotely as comfortable doing so as they used to be – least of all on an autumnal day at the Aviva Stadium.

Next July might be a different story but, hey, there’s a serious rivalry now.

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