From this day forth, whenever our nation goes in to battle against a sporting behemoth and might feel a bit on the daunted side, let Eddie O’Sullivan’s words ring loud: “It simply boils down to the fact that they have as many bones in their arse as we have . . . they’re only human.”
That New Zealand proved to be, but only because Ireland produced a performance of the super-human kind. Mighty match, mighty men. Bony bottoms up to them.
And to be honest about it, the nerves were shredded even before the game started because first, Ireland kept NZ waiting on the pitch before they emerged from the tunnel, then a few of our lads smiled at them when they were doing the Haka, and then the crowd started crooning the Fields before the Haka was done. You really don’t need to be making NZ angry.
Any way, once the three anthems and the Haka were completed, the process taking around 80 minutes, we were up and running, and there followed a half of rugby that was of the epically breathless kind, barely a quarter of an hour on the clock when Donal Lenihan already sounded drained.
Then James Lowe scored a try and then Tadhg Furlong scored another – "He's a horse of a man," Donal bellowed – but Tadhg's was disallowed because Rónan Kelleher used his knees to propel himself forward, Donal told us, when what else are knees for? And then NZ went up the other end and found a gap in the Irish rearguard the width of O'Connell Street and they were 10-5 up.
Donal fell silent for a moment, perhaps to take a slug out of an oxygen tank, but Johnny Sexton didn't fall silent at all, regularly sharing his views with the ref on how the game was being officiated, prompting NZ's Dane Coles to call him a "mouthy ****". It was all happening.
By half-time, our panel, no more than ourselves, were struggling to compute that half-time scoreline. “There’s only one team on the field at the moment,” said Eddie O’Sullivan, the problem being that the team that wasn’t on it were five points up.
“New Zealand are hanging on for dear life, Ireland are on fire, but we need to keep our foot on their throat,” he said. “We have them scrambling . . . they’re punch drunk.”
This level of optimism had Stephen Ferris a little nervous, wondering if Ireland would rue all those times they got to within a millimetre of the NZ line but progressed no further, but he'd have hardly have been back in his seat when Kelleher made it 10-10, the high-fiving only stopping in or around the moment twinkle toes Caelan Doris did his thing. Try converted, 17-10 Ireland.
Eddie had wanted them to place their boots on NZ throats, Donal now urged them to “go for the jugular!” Sexton tried to do just that by making it 20-10 with a penalty and Donal started losing the run of himself. “New Zealand are rattled, you can see it in their body language!” And then they scored a try, converted it, and Donal sounded desolate. “They haven’t been at at the races . . . and now they’re three points behind.”
Sexton off, Joey Carbery on, penalty, 23-17, and breeeeeeeaaaaaathe.
New Zealand try. Except after it was reviewed for four and a half hours, it was disallowed. If the stadium was entirely roofed, the cheers would have lifted it to Wellington.
A penalty, though, so the lead was down to three again. And then James Lowe produced a tackle so immense that even Channel 4 didn’t apologise to any viewers who might have been offended when he chatted with them about the moment after.
"You bolloxes always talk about my D but I got up and I whacked Rico and we got the turnover from it, man." For non-rugby aficionados, this translated as "you critics are always a touch harsh about my defence but I tackled Rieko Ioane rather effectively, so I'm tremendously happy." Lowe's celebration of the moment was pure bliss.
So, where were we? Oh yes, Carbery kicked a penalty from the halfway line, like you do, so that was 26-20, the crowd began Ole Ole-ing, and a stunned Hugh Cahill noticed that "two people to my right just walked out of the stadium". "They're from Christchurch, I'd say," said Donal.
Another penalty, 29-20, all over. Magic.
“If you’re a young kid, this is a game you’ll remember forever,” said an emotional Donal, but the thing here is that young kids have experienced three Irish victories over the All Blacks in the last five games, when most of us waited 111 years for one. The young people of today don’t know how easy they have it.
“Ireland put a stake in their heart,” said Eddie, while also celebrating the keeping of Irish feet on the visitors’ throats. No wonder NZ looked battered come full-time. And, most importantly, they left the pitch knowing that we have as many bones in our bottoms as them. Let that be a lesson to them.