Relentless Ireland crack the All Blacks on historic night

Joe Schmidt's Ireland secure a first ever win on home soil in 113 years of the fixture

Ireland 16 New Zealand 9

One to tell the grandchildren about, and even better than Chicago, because this inspired Irish victory was carved from a wild match of savage-like intensity in front of a wild crowd who all jumped aboard for the ride.

From first minute to last, you couldn’t take your eyes off it. And from first to last Ireland went mano a mano and toe to toe with the back to back world champions. There was only one try, and amazingly, Ireland scored it, thereby keeping the All Blacks’ famed running game tryless. So hats off to Andy Farrell and the 23 players who carried out such a monumentally, unflinching accurate defensive effort, pushing up hard, making their tackles, applying pressure on the breakdown – nobody more than Peter O’Mahony, who was immense for his hour on the pitch.

This was matched, from the first minute, by the hard, direct carrying into contact, where as you’d expect the remarkable James Ryan, CJ Stander and Bundee Aki led the charge, and the ruthless accuracy of their clearing out.


There was variation too, most of all in one training group move from the Joe Schmidt playbook, dating back to his Leinster days, and masterminded by the team’s driver, Johnny Sexton, and finished brilliantly by Jacob Stockdale.

It was ultimately the difference but there’s no doubt Ireland deserved the win.

Devin Toner’s return was vindicated in spades, as he steadied the Irish lineout, and with Tadhg Furlong having one of his finest days, the Irish scrum did untold and key damage in the contest of the result.

Outside Sexton and Aki, that Ireland kept attacking and made so many good defensive reads was in many ways down to the excellent Garry Ringrose, while Stockdale and Rob Kearney provided huge energy and quality in the air, with the latter also making one key try-scoring intercept.

Critically too, Ireland’s discipline was exceptional, their five penalties conceded taking their tally to 14 in three games, and in sharp contrast to an All Blacks that lived in yellow card territory and conceded 11.

Ireland rattled them.

The pre-match pageantry with the All Blacks in town was, as usual, nerve-tingling. After the three anthems, the haka was afforded respectful silence for the most part, at the end of which the Irish players stayed linked and formed a circle, in which O’Mahony had a final few, impassioned words.

It was time to strap ourselves in.

There were six kicks exchanged in the opening phase of ping-pong, culminating in Beauden Barrett finding space behind Keith Earls and Kearney was obliged to concede an attacking lineout. The All Blacks carried hard through over 10 phases, taking play close to the line, whereupon Ryan shot up to down Kieran Read behind the gain line, and Stander was over the ball for a penalty.

No score, but first psychological lift to Ireland. The crowd agreed.

Soon after, the first score was Ireland’s as well. Their first phased attack, in their own half, yielded a silly penalty, conceded by Brodie Retallick for being offside at the fringe when spoiling Kieran Marmion’s pass, and Sexton found touch on the 22.

From O’Mahony’s take Irish runners carried ferociously into contact, not least O’Mahony himself. There was some nice variations too, especially when Ringrose switched back to the blindside from Marmion’s pass and Josh van der Flier was the link for Earls to dance infield.

As Ireland inched toward the try line, any of a slew of All Blacks could have pinged for offside, and before Sexton opened the scoring, Rory Best made that point to referee Wayne Barnes.

When Toner ended another siege with a big hit on Retallick, Furlong pounced to scoop the ball off the deck. But when Best lost the ball from a hit by Sam Whitelock after another high intensity attack, Smith kicked downfield, chased and tackled Stockdale, and with Damian McKenzie quickly over the ball, Kearney came in from the side. Barrett levelled.

Toner’s value was underlined with a safe take after Barrett found touch in the Irish 22, and from a lovely transfer by Ryan to Toner, Stander carried hard. Liam Squire’s safety belt tackle conceded a penalty, and for good measure he never released and immediately went off his feet too. Absolute yellow card territory and the Aviva howled at the replay.

Memories are short, but the crowd hadn’t forgotten the All Blacks’ approach here two years ago. Sexton went to the corner from another penalty, given away even more indiscriminately by Whitelock when, from an offside position and on the ground, he illegally palmed Marmion’s pass. More yellow card territory.

The All Blacks did well to stop the maul, and after Aki trucked it up, Cian Healy and O’Mahony latched onto Stander to drive him over the line, but he was held up over the line. A huge Irish scrum, Furlong driving Karl Tu’inukuafe into the air, earned a penalty advantage, which Sexton chipped left-footed to the line. Jack Goodhue failed to gather under pressure from Kearney, the Irish fullback gathering on the deck but fumbling slightly in attempting to ground the ball on the line, so missing out on his first try in 21 Tests.

Compensation came by way of Sexton’s second penalty, but when McKenzie was able to catch Marmion’s box kick without undue pressure, it led to Barrett levelling matters again with his second drop goal in Test rugby from a penalty advantage, a week after his first.

A great take and even better leg-pumping carrying through traffic by Stockdale from inside halfway put on Ireland on the front foot, the ferocity of the straight running by Ryan and co keeping them there to eventually earn a scrum inside the 22.

Again, Ireland put on a huge shunt, Furling driving Tu’inukuafe upwards, and they went for the jugular. The maul was held up again, and when Ireland pounded at the All Blacks’ defence again, Whitelock was offside. The penalty count was now 8-2 and Barnes warned Read that the next offender was going in the bin, an outcome which was actually long overdue. Sexton made it 9-6.

The half ended with Ireland worthy of more than a 9-6 lead, and the bigger wonder was how the All Blacks had retained 15 players for the 40 minutes.

The interval briefly took the sting and quality out of the game. On the resumption, O’Mahony knocked on a wounded duck of a pass by Marmion, only for Read to miss Barrett from the base of the scrum, and Kearney countered well off the latter’s ensuing kick.

When Stockdale attempted a counter-attacking chip, it was read and blocked by Read, and all the All Blacks captain had to do was complete the pick-up 35 metres out for the try, especially with Goodhue to his side. Instead, he fumbled it. As Read smiled ruefully, Stockdale gulped in relief.

Two equally huge moments followed in the game’s most eventful four minutes to date. Next, O’Mahony brilliantly latched over the ball to earn a turnover penalty. Then, from O’Mahony’s fine lineout take under pressure, Sexton worked a training ground move with Aki, who swept and switched from behind Sexton to the blindside and passed to Stockdale.

This time his chip found grass and the winger gathered adroitly ahead of Aaron Smith on the run, took the tackle and that of McKenzie, to also reach out for the line. A superb finish, his 12th in 14 tests. Sexton’s conversion made it 16-9.

Ireland then missed half-chances. Retallick spilled Barrett’s pass as Best loomed into his face, but after Earls and Kearney chased down Ringrose’s clever kick, the Irish captain then missed his target from the attacking lineout. Ringrose, with his first mistake, then passed loosely.

It was telling that the All Blacks replaced their entire frontrow just seven minutes into the second half, and just as significantly, then withdrew McKenzie by introducing, as they do, Richie Mo’unga at outhalf and shifting Beauden Barrett.

This was followed by a switch at scrumhalf too, as TJ Perenara replaced Aaron Smith. Now, they also hit their straps. Ireland looked bedraggled, and with Sexton down injured, O’Mahony’s body positioning was superb, unmovable over Nepo Laulala to earn a mightily relieving turnover penalty.

His turn and recovering gather, as Ben Smith looked set to swoop on Barrett’s deadly grubber in behind, was even more remarkable. Statistics can never tell the story of what O’Mahony brings to a game, especially when this fired up and focused.

Now The Fields rang around the Aviva for a third time, but at full volume.

Alas, O’Mahony’s body couldn’t take any more pressure, and nor could Kearney’s. Both had given their all, but Ireland needed replenishments, and as well as Jordi Murphy and Jordan Larmour, Iain Henderson replaced Toner and immediately stole a Dane Coles throw, but Barrett made it 16-9 with a penalty for Sexton’s high tackle

Ireland, roared on by a febrile crowd, found renewed energy. Luke McGrath, on for Marmion, combined with Stander to execute a choke tackle and earn a turnover scrum, and after another gallop by Stockdale, escaping Ben Smith’s tackle, appeared to be tackled after his chip ahead, but French touchjudge Mathieu Raynal was unmoved.

With the crowd now a de facto 16th man, New Zealand were penned deep into their own territory, and when Read couldn’t gather Barrett’s hesitant pass, Ben Smith was hounded into touch by Stockdale and a pumped up Sexton.

But Retallick picked off Seán Cronin’s throw to Henderson at the front, and as you suspected would happen, there was last multi-phase attack from the All Blacks after Barrett gathered McGrath’s box kick.

Remorselessly they went through 15-phases plus from inside their own 10- metre line toward the Irish 22, all the while the crowd roaring The Fields and, well, just roaring. It was matched by the defiance on the pitch, as the men in green kept pushing up quickly, leaving no gaps, keeping their discipline and, finally, Retallick dropped the ball.

Minutes after the final whistle, the Irish squad celebrated in a circle and then lapped the field. No-one was inclined to leave. One to savour, for ever and ever.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 11 mins Sexton pen 3-0; 17 mins Barrett pen 3-3; 27 mins Sexton pen 6-3; 29 mins Barrett drop goal 6-6; 39 mins Sexton pen 9-6; (half-time 9-6); 52 mins Stockdale try, Sexton con 16-6; 69 mins Barrett pen 19-9; 69 mins Barrett pen 16-9.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Cian Healy, Rory Best (capt), Tadhg Furlong; James Ryan, Devin Toner; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Jack McGrath for Healy (52 mins), Luke McGrath for Marmion (59), Iain Henderson for Toner (62), Jordi Murphy for O'Mahony (64), Seán Cronin for Best, Andrew Porter for Furlong (both 65), Jordan Larmour for Kearney (66), Joey Carbery for Sexton (77).

NEW ZEALAND: Damian McKenzie; Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Karl Tu'inukuafe, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read (capt).

Replacements: Scott Barrett for Squire (32 mins), Dane Coles for Taylor, Ofa Tu'ungafasi for Tu'inukuafe, Nepo Laulala for Franks (all 47), Richie Mo'unga for McKenzie (56), TJ Perenara for A Smith (58), Anton Lienert-Brown for Crotty (62), Matt Todd for Savea (74).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times