Ireland shocked the rugby world at the weekend with a first win over the All Blacks in 111 years and in doing so handed Steve Hansen's men their first defeat of 2016
By the Whiff of Cordite blog
Despite having a team entirely composed of players from the unfairly maligned Pro12, Ireland managed to not only win a rugby match but beat the record-equalling New Zealand with an unforgettable performance in Chicago. In a match of many memorable moments, the one that will live long in our memories is Conor and four other Irishmen man-handling Julian Savea into touch in the 74th minute. It was clinical, clear-headed and nasty – and the moment you knew the game was won. In hindsight, you could question the All Blacks focus, and certainly the selection – Jerome Kaino at lock? – but this was about so much more. It was about Ireland bashing down a psychological barrier, and boy did they do so. In the grand tradition of semi-thoughtful hot takes from us, here’s the quintet of learnings:
Ireland’s closers got it done.
Ireland have twice threatened signature breakthroughs recently – in 2013 they were 16 points in front at half-time against the same opponents (until Saturday, a record deficit), but couldn’t quite hang in there. Ryan Crotty’s try was the culmination of relentless All Blacks pressure and Irish desperation just running out of road. This summer, Ireland had the exact same lead in the second test in Johannesburg, but by the time the Irish bench got on, the Springboks were rampant, and a series Ireland should have won was lost. This time, the bench managed to wrestle momentum back to Ireland – a 15-minute wobble meant it was a 4 point game in the 65th minute, but from there Ireland successfully disrupted New Zealand and forced them into a desperate chasing game. It was the platform for the glorious finale.
Conor Murray bestrode the game like a colossus
Aaron Smith has been one of the standout players of the last 12 months, but he was completely eclipsed by Murray. By the time Smith knew where Murray was for his try, the Munsterman had scored, had a shower and got a round in at the post-match function. Such a display of controlled poise marks Murray out among the worlds elite, and he must surely be should pencilled in as a Lions starter next June.
Ireland are no longer reliant on Johnny Sexton
In the very recent past, opponents would look at Johnny Sexton and see Ireland’s beating heart, a man who could be taken out to disrupt the rhythm of the entire team. Now, we’ve seen Paddy Jackson almost orchestrate a series win in South Africa, and Joey Carbery slot in against the All Blacks as if he was clocking in for a regular runout at the RDS. Sexton is far from done, but Ireland are no longer as reliant on the cranky playmaker as they have been and that’s a good thing. All Ireland need now is a backup No 9 who is semi-decent?
Andy Farrell defensive masterclass
One pleasing aspect of Ireland’s performance was the blitz defence that bore the unmistakable hallmark of one Andrew Farrell. Irish teams have come unstuck against that kind of defensive alignment in the past, particularly from pumped up English ball-carriers and Warren Gatland‘s Welsh power-runners so it was gratifying to see the men in green being the blitzers for once. Farrell got plenty of brickbats cast his way with England, but his expertise in league-style defence was never in doubt. The signs were there in South Africa, but Saturday’s team had the indelible stamp of a Farrell defence.
The incomparable Joe Schmidt
And how can we not point out the architect of a piece of history, the man who came up with the gameplan that outwitted his own countrymen – Joe Schmidt. We’ve been a critic of Schmidt’s selections as conservative and too reliant on a core bunch of men from his Leinster days. Indeed, we were critical of his selection of Rob Kearney and Jordi Murphy for Saturday. Now, you can argue until the cows come home about Van der Flier’s heroics in his hour, or whether Tiernan O’Halloran would have done what Kearney did and more – but you can’t deny Schmidt got it right. Again. As Pat Lam said, Schmidt was the only person in the country who would have selected Kearney, but it paid off. We’ll continue to opine, but questioning Schmidt is generally a losing trade. The phrase “in Joe we trust” makes us gag for a number of reasons, but still – Uncle Joe is undoubtedly some sort of genius. And one Ireland have locked down for the entirety of this RWC cycle. Hallelujah!