We at the Lineout had the fantastic privilege of attending what can only be described as a truly epic game of rugby as Ireland finally, after 111 years of trying, got the All Black monkey off their back and became part of the elite club that has claimed a New Zealand scalp. As a result of the weekend’s groundbreaking action, and the wave of euphoria we got caught up in in Chicago last Saturday as the Green Army took over the city, we sadly are only able to comment on the Ireland/New Zealand game as we have not had a chance to watch the other internationals featuring Argentina, Wales, Australia and Japan. We’ll leave you with another fine effort from our friends at Rugby Montages to sum up the weekend’s action.
Ireland vs New Zealand
Final Score – Ireland 40/New Zealand 29
Soldier Field, Chicago
Now that the flow of Guinness in pubs and bars from Chicago to Dublin has returned to its normal flow, we look back at one of the most incredible spectacles of Test Rugby we at the Lineout have ever had the privilege of witnessing. Chicago provided a fantastic setting as Ireland managed to get their first win over the All Blacks in 111 years of trying. A packed Soldier Field, which boasted the largest crowd to ever attend a rugby match in the USA at over 62,000, lent their full voice to what was an epic afternoon of glorious rugby in brilliant sunshine. If that wasn’t the best advertisement for the sport to potential North American audiences then we don’t know what was.
There was some confusion at the end of the national anthems caused by New Zealand getting their full anthem sung, but Ireland for some strange reason only getting a solo fiddler’s rendition of Ireland’s Call which seemed to perplex fans and players alike who were waiting to burst into song. However, the sense of occasion was highlighted as the face of recently deceased Munster Coach and Irish legend, Anthony Foley was flashed up on the big screen. In perhaps the most impressive challenge we’ve seen in a long time to the New Zealand haka, the Irish players formed a number eight on the field in honor of Foley and in response to the All Black’s famous ritual. You could cut the emotional intensity of this match with a knife.
From the minute, French referee Mathieu Raynal blew his whistle this match erupted into life and just did not let up for the full eighty minutes. Ireland went charging into the New Zealand half right from the kickoff and would remain there for much of the first half. Ireland were clinical and clearly had a detailed understanding of the game they were trying to take to New Zealand. While perhaps not as flash as New Zealand, their skills and composure were rock solid for the full eighty minutes both in attack and defence. Although Ireland were on the front foot for most of the first half, with 70% percent of the possession and the opening points of the game, ironically it would be New Zealand who would get the first try in the opening ten minutes. All Black winger Waisake Naholo showed his devastating pace and ability to exploit gaps, with Irish flanker C J Stander making a heroic last-ditch tackle which saw the ball bobble loose and into the arms of New Zealand centre George Moala. New Zealand were in front 5-3 and there was a sense of premonition amongst the crowd.
However, it was short-lived as Ireland took the match by the scruff of the neck straight away and would not let up for the next 30 minutes. Ireland’s intent was clear from the start as they elected to kick for touch instead of taking easy points. Ireland clearly recognised the need to put big points on the board against a team like the All Blacks early on. Every player in an Irish jersey was making a statement and after some intense pressure on the New Zealand line, flanker Jordi Murphy would burrow his way over for Ireland’s first try. New Zealand’s discipline was showing serious cracks as they were clearly getting rattled by the ferocity and speed of the Irish attack resulting in a yellow card for prop Joe Moody after a dangerous tackle on Irish centre Robbie Henshaw. Next fullback Rob Kearney, who made a spectacular return to form in this match, would take a high ball to within inches of the New Zealand line with C J Stander using his brute strength to crash across for Ireland’s second try. With Sexton’s boot making no mistakes on Saturday Ireland found themselves with a 15-5 lead.
New Zealand’s defences were struggling to read the Irish game plan and as a result the Irish were able to exploit the confusion to the full and keep New Zealand from getting any kind of meaningful possession or territory. In one of the highlights of the match Irish scrum half Conor Murray, who was absolutely outstanding for the full eighty minutes, in a superb dummy would put himself into acres of space for Ireland’s third try. With Sexton making the conversions count the Irish faithful in the crowd dared to dream at half time as the score stood at 25-8 in favour of the Men in Green. Memories of the heartache of 2013 were still fresh and the expectation was that New Zealand would seek to turn their fortunes around in the second half just as they did so clinically three years ago.
Nevertheless, as the second half got underway there was no let up in the Irish intensity as Sexton would put winger Simon Zebo in the corner for Ireland’s fourth try. New Zealand then seemed to awaken from their stupor and all of sudden the game was all about the Men in Black. Two quick tries in succession from All Black scrum half T J Perenara and fullback Ben Smith got New Zealand right back in the match. Ben Smith’s try in particular showcased his and New Zealand’s abilities to master the margins of the game as he somehow managed to dot the ball down in the corner milliseconds before the rest of his body was hauled into touch by two Irish defenders. All of a sudden it was 30-22 for Ireland but with 25 minutes left to play the sense of deja vu amongst Irish supporters was growing by the second. Sexton slotted a valuable penalty to put the hosts ahead 33-22 but New Zealand were piling on the pressure and testing the Irish defences.
New Zealand would strike again in the final quarter through replacement lock Scott Barrett putting himself into space and beating the Irish defence to make it 33-29 with fifteen minutes left. To say that you could have cut the tension in the air with a knife at Soldier Field would have been an understatement. Then a piece of Irish magic happened that will keep Irish eyes smiling for many years to come. The stadium erupted as Robbie Henshaw in a brilliant show of strength would crash over to seal New Zealand’s fate. Replacement fly half Joey Carbery, who could not have asked for a more intense baptism of fire on his debut for Ireland, would slot the penalty and Ireland’s day in history had finally arrived as Ireland held a commanding 40-29 lead with four minutes left on the clock. In the Henshaw try, for us one of the great unsung heroes of Irish rugby in the last few years, Number Eight Jamie Heaslip, showed just how valuable he is. Heaslip may have middling form at club level but when he pulls on an Irish jersey he becomes a different player. Involved in everything Ireland did for the full eighty minutes he is one of the team’s most valuable talismans. His strength and vision to put Henshaw across embodied the spirit of the Irish challenge in Chicago last Saturday.
New Zealand proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at Ireland for the last four minutes but unlike in 2013 the Irish kept their focus, discipline and precision for the full eighty minutes. New Zealand were running out of ideas to break a steadfast and aggressive Irish defence causing the All Blacks to display some uncharacteristically poor handling and execution as the clock wound down to full-time.
Finally, referee Mathieu Raynal awarded Ireland a penalty for an offside offence by New Zealand. Ireland would make no mistakes this time and the ball was kicked into touch and a 111 year drought finally came to an end as Soldier Field erupted into a joyous cacophony of sound. New Zealand had put in a brave effort at times but as their head coach Steve Hansen openly admitted with a smile on his face, Ireland were clearly the better side on the day. The pitch was a scene of delirious jubilation for Irish players, management and fans alike as the Irish team happily made their way around the touch lines as the largest crowd ever seen for a rugby match in the USA, 62,300 gave them a thunderous standing ovation.
An incredible game of rugby and a spectacle that will live with us for many years to come, has now set up the rugby showdown of the year between these two sides in Dublin on November 19th. When you get this kind of accolade from the New Zealand media then you know that this was no ordinary game.
Whatever you’re doing on November 19th find a live stream, fly to Ireland or go and visit friends in the US where the game will be on ESPN, but do NOT miss this one – it’s going to be HUGE!!!!!!
Once more the fine people at Rugby Montages have produced an excellent video wrap-up of the weekend’s action, including the Wales/Australia, Japan/Argentina Tests and the match between the USA and the Maori All Blacks which also took place in Chicago. There is also footage of the South Africa/Barbarians match which took place at Wembley. Enjoy and subscribe to their channel so they keep producing more of the same!