Ireland – 16
New Zealand – 9
Sean McMahon reporting from the Aviva Stadium
This game was billed as a decider to which team is the best in the world and Ireland can certainly feel they deserve that tag as they produced a performance which the All Blacks had no answer to.
Everyone expected New Zealand to respond to last week’s narrow win at Twickenham but it never came as Joe Schmidt’s side slammed the door shut on every occasion Steve Hansen’s men look threatening.
There were no shortage of standout performers for Ireland as the likes of Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan; the list goes on, all put in monumental shifts.
Ultimately, the game was won by Ireland’s superb defence and a moment of individual brilliance from Jacob Stockdale in the second-half. Even with 15 minutes left as Ireland had a 10 point lead, there were no fears of a repeat of 2013 because this team have grown to a new level since that heartbreaking day.
After this game, New Zealand will still be ranked number one in the world but with the manner in which Ireland outperformed them, the best team in the world at the moment may well be Joe Schmidt’s side.
Like for most of this match, the opening minutes started at a blistering pace. Both teams decided to test each other out in the aerial stakes which resulted in mistakes from both teams.
However, the All Blacks soon targetted the space in behind Keith Earls on the right wing which ultimately gave the All Blacks their first real chance of the game as Rob Kearney collected and slid into touch.
The away side won the ensuing lineout just metres from the Irish line but some superb defending, which was a characteristic of this Irish side throughout the first half, thwarted the All Blacks as Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander combined to win a crucial turnover to the delight of the packed stadium.
From Ireland’s first real period of possession, James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony both made significant carries to get Ireland up the pitch until the All Blacks strayed offside, not for the first time in this game, which allowed Sexton to kick for the corner.
Another penalty came for Ireland from the subsequent lineout and Sexton made no mistake this time as he opted for the posts to give Ireland a 3-0 lead.
Ireland were on defensive duty once again and the likes of Devin Toner, James Ryan and Stander were putting in massive hits to stop any All Blacks momentum which was originally generated by a Ryan Crotty half break. The All Blacks encroached when they failed to release the ball from the ruck which gave Ireland an opportunity to move into the away side’s 22.
A Rory Best knock on allowed the All Blacks to break and kick downfield. A foot race ensued and although Jacob Stockdale collected the ball, he was isolated and Ireland were penalised for going in off their feet which gave Beauden Barrett an opportunity to level matters which he did with ease.
Barrett started to grow into the game as he pinged a ball into the Irish corner. Joe Schmidt’s side did manage to clear the ball but Stockdale knocked on in the air as he tried to collect the clearing kick.
The All Blacks went through the phases from the resulting scrum and they eventually knocked it on through some excellent Irish defending. A high tackle from turnover ball on CJ Stander gave Ireland an opportunity to kick to the corner only for another infringement from the visitors leading to an Irish lineout just 5m out.
Toner secured the ball and Ireland marched a few metres with their maul before Marmion sent the ball to an onrushing Aki. On the next phase, Stander was pushed over the line but the ball was held up as Barnes awarded a 5m scrum.
Ireland got the shove on and won penalty advantage as Sexton decided for the speculative up and under, the ball was spilled as it fell to Rob Kearney but unfortunately the fullback knocked it when attempting to ground the ball. Sexton went for the posts to give Ireland a 6-3 lead.
The lead didn’t last long as the All Blacks levelled the game soon after as Barrett slotted a drop goal with his side having a penalty advantage deep within Irish territory.
Ireland’s next score began with Stockdale fielding a high ball. The Ulsterman spotted a gap to break up the pitch. Ireland went through the phases inside the 22 until the All Blacks knocked on in the tackle to give the men in green a scrum from 10m out.
The scrum, yet again, was a dominant one as Ireland pushed the world champions back towards their own line. Barnes was quick with the arm as Ireland kicked to the corner. The maul didn’t go to plan but the All Blacks were penalised twice by Barnes as Ireland laid siege on the try line – the crowd roared for someone to go to the bin but no card was forthcoming. Sexton decided to go for the posts this time and he made no mistake to put Ireland 9-6 in front with one minute remaining in the first half.
Jacob Stockdale was the most relieved man in the country just five minutes into the second half. He attempted a chip over Kieran Read only for the All Blacks captain to block the ball. As he went to collect it, he knocked it on when attempting to pass to a supporting teammate which would have likely resulted in the first try of the game.
That moment would prove crucial as Ireland got the first and only try of the game and it all began with an incredible turnover from Munster captain Peter O’Mahony. The resulting penalty gave Ireland prime territory in New Zealand’s half and from this, a roar was heard all over Dublin as Stockdale showed some individual brilliance to push Ireland further into the lead.
A reverse pass from Sexton changed Ireland’s point of attack to go back towards the blindside. The ball was spread to Stockdale who executed a chip perfectly this time as he collected the ball and reached for the line to touch down. Sexton, who began the move, converted to make it 16-6 to Ireland.
The Fields Of Athenry were ringing around Lansdowne Road and the noise got even louder when Best put in a massive hit on Brodie Retallick. The All Black spilled the ball and Tadhg Furlong was on hand to charge up the pitch until the ball was kicked towards the corner where Rob Kearney shoved Barrett into touch.
Unfortunately, as Ireland looked to land a killer blow, the lineout malfunctioned which gave the All Blacks some respite as they cleared the ball downfield.
Every time the All Blacks looked threatening, Ireland came up with a turnover and O’Mahony produced a huge one in his own 22 but he injured himself in the process as he left the field to a standing ovation.
A Beauden Barrett penalty brought it back to a seven point game but Ireland continued to dominate the territory stakes for the remainder of the game until they kicked possesion away with two minutes remaining.
That kick saw the All Blacks go through the phases to bring play to Ireland’s 22 with the clock in the red. However, a thumping tackle on Retallick saw the ball dislodged from the towering lock and with it, a roar which hasn’t been heard in this famous old ground for many years.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion, Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.
New Zealand: Karl Tu’inukuafe, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Ofa Tuungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown.