This was a win that will echo through the ages; Ireland delivered an outstanding and virtually complete performance against New Zealand, earning them their first win against the All Blacks on home soil.
The opening stages of the game were nervy, with each side assessing where they had the upper hand, but it became evident very early on that Ireland had the ascendancy in the contact area.
Their defence throughout the entire game was impeccable, forcing New Zealand into plenty of turnovers and never allowing them to settle into the fixture. This manifested itself in a lot of uncharacteristic errors from the All Blacks, but given their recent history, most notably against South Africa, as well as last week against England last week, they would be unconcerned, trusting in their ability to re-establish themselves in the fixture.
And yet, it never came. Ireland’s sea of green crashed against their attacking line, and when they didn’t force New Zealand into a mistake, the indomitable Peter O’Mahony was on hand to win the turnover. As the game wore on, everything was falling in favour of the Irish.
Neither side really established themselves once the game had settled however, but Ireland certainly looked the more incisive. Jonny Sexton’s movement on and off the ball was a constant thorn in the All Blacks, especially when their defence was often splintered. His ability to hold onto the ball and play what is in front of him, before then providing a support line, kept Ireland moving forward.
Add in the power of the front five in the contact area, and Ireland were steadily beginning to make gains. Ten minutes in and an offside in front of the posts gave them a three-nil lead.
Ever a team who can adapt to what is in front of them, New Zealand upped their tempo, and began to make gains by keeping the Irish on the back foot. There was something missing though. More than once, they found themselves without options, up a cul-de-sac, and the ball was turned over.
The same could be said of Ireland at times too, but where Peter O’Mahony was the man working his magic in the dark depths of the ruck, so Ardie Savea was for the All Blacks.
Despite it taking 20 minutes for the first scrum of the game, won by the men in black, this was another area that Ireland perhaps had the upper hand. Tadhg Furlong so utterly dominated Tu’inukuafe, that it seemed odd when the New Zealander wasn’t standing up in the scrum.
This dominance from the Irish pack, and their ascendancy in the tight areas, was shown an uncharacteristic nod of respect when Beauden Barrett dropped a goal on the half-hour mark. New Zealand would have to fight for every point.
They weren’t helping themselves though. As the teams went in at half time, after Jonny Sexton’s third penalty of the night gave Ireland a 9-6 lead, their penalty count sat at 9, compared to Ireland’s 2.
The incredible discipline shown by Ireland, not least in their low penalty count, but in their narrow defensive line and expertly regimented defensive movement, gave New Zealand such little room to move in that they effectively controlled the game without the ball.
At half time, they had enjoyed over sixty percent of the possession and territory.
Within a minute of the kick off, Furlong was back to destroying the New Zealand scrum. Again, a mark of respect was shown, as Kieran Read took the ball quickly from the back of the scrum, seemingly to avoid being on the back foot. It was rushed though, and a poor pass put Beauden Barrett under a lot of pressure.
These mistakes persisted, but to suggest it was New Zealand having a bad day takes away from the complete domination of the Irish pack over their counterparts.
On 46 minutes, O’Mahony again forced a turnover in the tackle. The penalty is put into touch, and Ireland have a line out on half way.
Straight from the training ground, Ireland run an expertly conceived move where the forwards make extra effort to get into the wide areas of the pitch. Pulling the defenders across leaves the space for Sexton to switch with Bundee Aki who moves back to the blindside. His pass released Jacob Stockdale, who chipped over Ben Smith before winning the race to the ball, and maintaining his momentum, despite a good tackle by Aaron Smith, slid over the line to give Ireland the score.
The belief that the try gave them was immediately evident too, their energy in defence shot through the roof; punishing tackles forced the New Zealanders to the very edge of their abilities.
In truth, this was somewhere a lot closer than many of their performances to date had suggested. Their loss to South Africa in Wellington still had the feel of inexorability about it despite their loss; their win in the return leg at Loftus Versfeld, and last week’s return against England only enshrined their incredible ability to win whatever the odds.
This was different though.
There was no way through. Ireland simply strangled the life out of the New Zealand machine, going so far as to keep them from scoring a single try - something that has only happened to the All Blacks a handful of times in their history. Before the Lions did it in 2017, you have to go back to 1995 and a match against the French!
Not least did their defensive resolve hold for the entire eighty minutes too; as the clock went red it was New Zealand on the attack, and the gruelling maelstrom and violent turmoil of bodies was only broken by a knock on from a man in black.
As Wayne Barnes put his whistle to his lips to signal the end of the fixture, history was assured. Ireland had secured their first victory against the All Blacks on Irish soil.
The shivers of this victory will run through the foundations of Twickenham, Murrayfield and the Principality more deeply than we can know. Never before have Ireland had an opportunity to establish themselves so convincingly on the world stage as they do now; their status as favourites for the Six Nations has been cemented here, but furthermore, they have given their nation hope that 2019 will be their year.