Ireland were magnificent in Chicago. They played an outstanding game. But can they go for a repeat in two weeks?
Like a couple of years ago, it was tight. In fact the game turned on one moment. It was the Julian Savea mistake of carrying the ball back into his in-goal area and running into touch. Had he kicked quicker or stepped the other way, New Zealand might well have won the game. But that mistake meant Ireland got the scrum at the 5, could pile on the pressure again and deny New Zealand the score they needed.
Even when Ireland scored another try, the game was not sealed. New Zealand had shown before they could overcome those odds, even in a short time. It was that penalty afterwards that sealed it.
What won Ireland the game was the good interplay between backs and forwards and the outstanding effort in defence.
A known problem for Ireland is not moving out of the forwards game, and messing up when they do let the three quarters play. This did not happen in Chicago. They held it together, and like New Zealand, played a rather simple, basic, but effective game. They had depth, speed and played an expansive game that let guys like Rob Kearney and Andrew Trimble shine as well as their forwards.
When the All Blacks were in possession, Ireland had two major points: their rush defence and their choke tackles.
Choke tackles have been an Irish speciality for a long time now. The All Blacks simply were not prepared for that one and during the match they did not adapt for it.
The rush defence, closing down the outside channels in the line quickly, worked very well. It left Beauden Barrett with few options by letting his centre take crash balls.
It all worked very well, but there is no escaping the fact that the All Blacks were able to break the gain line at ease. Whether in the forwards or in the backs, they were able to gain metres. Ireland forced many errors from them as well, but they were very lucky a number of times.
Both of them have a bit of light exercise the coming weekend, before squaring off again at Lansdowne Road a week later. Ireland will take on Canada and New Zealand travel to Rome. So in theory both will be quite fresh for their next encounter.
New Zealand will have reviewed their errors and learned from them. And in true Kiwi style, they will have come up with a simple, straightforward solution. After all, the solutions to Ireland’s tactics are simple.
A choke tackle is easily beaten by going low and good support play. A choke tackle relies on getting the high hit, holding the ball in and keeping the ball carrier on his feet. This is not possible when the ball carrier charges into the tackler at thigh height.
The solution to the rush defence is what the All Blacks already did; breaking the line. If they manage to break the defensive line early on in the attack, either at fly half or first centre or with a winger or forward coming on the fly half’s blind side, the rest of the defenders are lost in the middle of nowhere. And that did happen a number of times at Soldier Field.
With the All Blacks now forearmed, Ireland will face an even tougher challenge at Lansdowne Road than they did at Soldier Field. But we are surely in for a treat in two weeks.