Under Joe Schmidt Ireland have come on leaps and bounds. For so many years the nearly boys of world rugby, they have generated success unfounded in their history.
Winning back-to-back Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015 as well as beating the three superpowers of the southern hemisphere with more regularity they are now a side to be feared and revered.
The generation led by Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell have been replaced by the likes of Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony, allowing the team to develop rather than stagnate.
Here we look at the finest Irish displays from the autumn internationals in the professional era, from the nail-biting finishes to the thumping victories.
5. Ireland 38-3 South Africa, 2017
Running out at the Aviva Stadium with a team at full strength, blessed with a plethora of world-class players, Ireland dominated the Springboks to win by the largest margin ever against a southern hemisphere team.
Boasting attacking talents such as Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki – both making their first home starts – and boosted by a devastating bench, Ireland ran in three tries in the last ten minutes to decimate a weak South African side.
Inspirational half-back pairing Murray and Sexton were faultless; a daunting prospect for any side in world rugby to contend with.
4. Ireland 27-24 Australia, 2016
The first Irish team to ever beat New Zealand, South Africa and Australia in a calendar year. An open and exciting contest in Dublin resulted in a narrow victory for a side skippered by Rory Best on the occasion of his 100th Test cap.
Taking an initial 17-0 lead early on through a bulldozing run by Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose, they held on after the green and gold retaliated with three tries of their own after a barrage of dangerous incisions.
Injury-ravaged during the match, the victory showed the tremendous character and attitude of this Irish squad.
3. Ireland 18-9 Australia, 2002
A hard fought, narrow, tight encounter on a rain-sodden Lansdowne Road against the world champions and Lions victors from the season before. A momentous victory for so many reasons. It was Ireland’s first victory over Australia at home in 34 years. Without a victory against a Tri-Nations side for 23 years the Irish team needed a triumph to give them confidence against these nations.
A victory built on faultless kicking, resolute defence and discipline. The initial stages of so many greats careers, it was a springboard for a golden generation of Irish rugby.
2. Ireland 15-10 South Africa, 2009
This was the grand slam winners battling against a colossus Springboks side packed with World Cup winners and legends of world rugby. A team that had defeated the All Blacks three times in one season, won the Tri-Nations and beaten a strong Lions team 2-1 in the Test series.
With a young, exuberant Johnny Sexton starting in the 10 jersey ahead of Six Nations hero O’Gara much was expected. What followed was a masterclass in game management and resolute defence by the Irish side. An inspired Brian O’Driscoll nearly knocked himself unconscious stopping Zane Kirchner on the line in the dying seconds after a relentless wave of South African attacks.
1. Ireland 40-29 New Zealand, 2016
One of the great rugby fallacies came crashing down in Chicago a little over a year ago. The All Blacks were undefeated in 111 years and 28 attempts versus Ireland, after Schmidt’s men had come agonisingly close in the Aviva three years before and in Christchurch the year before that.
Yet, the men in green beat them at their own game, scoring five exhilarating tries in an inspired effort, only a month after the Munster and Ireland great Anthony Foley so sadly passed away.
A monumental game, it was the perfect homage to one of Ireland’s greatest servants.
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Read More About: All Blacks, Anthony Foley, brian o'driscoll, bundee aki, conor murray, garry ringrose, iain henderson, Jacob Stockdale, Joe Schmidt, Johnny Sexton, new zealand rugby, paul o'connell, peter o'mahony, ronan o'gara, south africa rugby, springboks, Wallabies