By Claire Glancy at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland said they were confident going into this match but it’s doubtful that even the players themselves imagined they’d storm to a three try to nil lead in the first quarter. Sunday’s match against the All Blacks was one of the best performances of an Irish side in recent memory. Ironically, it followed one of the worst in last week’s defeat to Australia. It didn’t have the perfect ending but the turn around in intensity and accuracy should be applauded. We’ve learned a lot about Ireland in this autumn series. Here are just five of those things.
The benchmark is set
This Irish squad have set a standard of play and nothing less will be acceptable for themselves or the coaches from now on. The turnaround from the Australia game was remarkable and Ireland were everything they hadn’t been against the Wallabies: committed, passionate, accurate. The Leinster lads have said that Joe Schmidt spent a lot of time getting the simple things right because once you’ve done that the rest will follow.
The All Blacks are masters of getting the basics right which is why, this season, they’ve rarely put a foot wrong.
Irish men can match the world’s best
If you knew nothing about rugby but had stumbled across this match on the television, I doubt you could have told who was the world’s number one rugby nation. For the first forty minutes at least, you would be forgiven for believing it was the men in green. It seems unfair to pick individuals out after such a complete team performance but I will never forget the sight of Cian Healy trampling over Richie McCaw, nor Sean O’Brien bullocking through the New Zealand defence like a runaway train.
Rory Best was only on the pitch for fourteen minutes but in that time his work around the park, not to mention over the try line, showed the class that had made him many peoples starting hooker for the Lions this time last year. Rob Kearney was balletic under the high ball and fleet of foot as he sprinted 60m for the line.
I could go on…
To be the best you must believe you’re the best
That’s the All Blacks mantra.
Richie McCaw said afterwards that one of his first coaches told him to always believe you can win, no matter what. It’s something that he tries to instill in his players. Paul O’Connell says he’s always believed this Ireland team are “an excellent side who just don’t always get the balance right.”
From early on, Ireland’s body language was completely different to last week. From watching Peter O’Mahony bursting with emotion during the anthems to Sean O’Brien shoving Aaron Smith for the ball in the first minute and Rob Kearney’s huge grin when a decision was reversed for him being taken out in the air, Ireland were up to the challenge. O’Connell says with time the belief New Zealand have in themselves will come to Ireland. This was just the first step in the right direction.
Moral victory is an empty victory
Gone are the days when Ireland are happy to be the brave and willing losers. This defeat hurt. As a nation, Ireland are seen as happy and carefree but that hasn’t applied on the rugby pitch for years.
As professionals, they don’t want to fail at their jobs but on Sunday, for the first time in a while, they proved to themselves and everyone watching, representing their country means so much more than a pay-cheque. Unlike the week before, when even their team-mate from last season Ronan O’Gara questioned the passion, Ireland put everything into this performance. They may not feel it now, but they will take so much from this. They’ll not want to experience these lows again.
‘The Fields’ returned to Dublin
For the fans at Lansdowne Road, this game was like a Sunday afternoon squat class they were in and out of their seats so often. The ground was never silent either.
Finally the PA music system was defunct as the crowd sang ‘The Fields of Anthenry’ and chanted, roared and cheered their countrymen over the line. It was without a doubt the best atmosphere there has ever been at the Aviva Stadium. Afterwards members of the New Zealand press talked of the ‘deafening noise’ and our ears were ringing. That’s what a home match should feel like. If the Ireland players do build on this performance and the fans can play their part, then maybe, just maybe, the next time the All Blacks are in town they’ll leave empty handed.