Thursday, December 8

Ireland win titanic third test to secure historic series victory against All Blacks 


Ireland made history at Sky Stadium as they secured a victory in the deciding final Test against the All Blacks, the first overseas Test team to claim a series win since France in 1994.

A week after a famous first Test win on New Zealand soil to level the series at one all, Johnny Sexton led his side to back-to-back victories over the former world champions, this win in Wellington on Saturday delivered by four tries to three on a landmark evening for Irish rugby.

With 14 months to go until the World Cup in France, Ireland have sent a message across the global game with this series win and while Irish teams have been similarly hyped after standout performances in the year before the race for the Webb Ellis Trophy and come up woefully short by the time the tournament came around, none have scaled the heights or looked better equipped to live up to top billing than this team moulded by head coach Andy Farrell.

First-half tries from Josh van der Flier, Hugo Keenan and Robbie Henshaw and seven points from the boot of captain Sexton laid the foundations for the victory, Ireland’s fifth in eight games since their first win in 2016, as the tourists jumped into a 22-3 lead. The second half was a more tense affair as prop Andrew Porter was sin-binned for 10 minutes and the All Blacks hit back with tries from Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan reducing the visitors’ lead to just three points at 25-22 in the third quarter.

Ireland, though, showed their mettle in one of the toughest rugby arenas, riding out the black storm and holding their nerve, their reward a penalty from Sexton and a game-clinching try from replacement hooker Rob Herring, converted by the skipper to complete an epic win and series victory.

This was the game in which New Zealand were supposed to roar back and avenge their beating in Dunedin, just as they had done in each of their previous losses to the Irish. The first home defeat seven days earlier had particularly stung and the pressure from critics in the national media had piled onto under-fire head coach Ian Foster.

Yet his plan to disrupt the Irish lineout by deploying three locks in their forward pack, which had worked so well in the opening Test, was itself undermined for the second week in a row when Scott Barrett was ruled out through injury on Saturday morning.

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Barrett had been restored to blindside flanker, the position he had occupied in the first Test at Eden Park with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick forming the second row. Yet Whitelock’s absence through a concussion from the second Test had forced the All Blacks to pick a more orthodox number six in Dalton Papalii in Dunedin. Whitelock’s return for the decider saw Barrett back to six when head coach Ian Foster named his matchday squad on Thursday but he was forced to rejig once more, bringing in Akira Ioane at blindside.

None of that bothered Ireland though as they once again got off to a flying start. Keith Earls had scored inside six minutes of the series opener at Eden Park, Andrew Porter crossed after just three in the second Test and here in Wellington it was a powerful forward effort that got the tourists up and running in the fourth minute, a lineout drive that rolled over the All Blacks pack in devastating fashion with Josh van der Flier finishing with the score.

New Zealand had an almost immediate chance to reply when Bundee Aki went off his feet at a ruck after an Aaron Smith box kick but Jordie Barrett missed from the penalty in front of the posts around the 10-metre line. The full-back did get his side on the scoreboard on 22 minutes with a close-range penalty when Sexton was pinged for not rolling away but they were the last points registered by the home side in a first half dominated by the Irish.

Powerful in contact and getting over the gainline with ease, Ireland poured forward at every opportunity in the second quarter and with a penalty advantage moved the ball left to James Lowe whose inside pass to Hugo Keenan opened a path to the tryline which the full-back needed no invitation to accept. Sexton’s conversion from the left touchline put Ireland 12-3 ahead after 28 minutes and the captain added another three points four minutes later.

The All Blacks had managed to score just before half-time in each of the previous two Tests, killing the game off at Eden Park and closing the gap to Ireland to just three points in the second but this time it was the men in green who grabbed a vital score in the minutes before the interval.

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It was another well-worked attack that unpicked the All Blacks, this time launched from a scrum. The ball passed through hooker Dan Sheehan, Sexton and Aki to put Robbie Henshaw clear to the left of the posts and the centre’s try, Ireland’s third, converted by Sexton from close to the touchline, sent his side into the dressing rooms with a 22-3 lead.

Yet the All Blacks did reply, three minutes after the break as Ardie Savea struck from close range after sustained pressure on the Irish line, Jordie Barrett converting his side’s first try of the game to make inroads into the Irish lead at 22-10.

New Zealand’s momentum gathered pace when Andrew Porter was yellow carded on 50 minutes for head on head contact with Brodie Retallick, the Irishman saved from a red card, much to the annoyance of home fans, because he was deemed to have absorbed the All Blacks lock’s carry by his tackle.

It still left the Irish a man short the All Blacks quickly took advantage from the resulting penalty and lineout, Akira Ioane crossing over, with Jordie Barrett’s conversion narrowing the gap to 22-17.

When Ireland won a penalty at the other end, Sexton’s kick was taking against a backdrop of boos and whistle but the Irish captain kept his composure and the resulting three points on 55 minutes came as mighty relief to the sizeable contingent of Irish supporters inside the Cake Tin.

The temperature was rising inside the stadium as Sexton took another penalty, this time from halfway which agonisingly struck the crossbar. The resulting scramble paid dividends for the All Blacks, no better team to strike from unstructured play and no better finisher in world rugby than Will Jordan, whose break from halfway left Irish defenders in his wake as he sprinted from the centre spot into the right corner. Jordie Barrett missed the conversion but the pressure had been applied, Ireland’s lead cut to 25-22.

Andy Farrell had wanted to discover how his players reacted under “extreme pressure” and he will have been delighted by the response his team delivered at the most crucial of times. Once again it was Ireland’s maul that did the damage, replacement hooker Rob Herring peeling off the drive to score moments after replacing Sheehan. Sexton’s conversion, again from out wide, was calmness personified and Ireland had restored a 10-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.

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It was no surprise the All Blacks threw the kitchen sink at Ireland, desperate to avoid a first series defeat in 28 years but they reckoned without Tadhg Beirne, the lock saving his side in a brilliant collective rearguard with two vital turnovers to relive the pressure . The Fields of Athenry rang out around the stadium as the clock ticked over into final minutes as Ireland broke out and into the All Blacks half as the home side, even in possession, ran out of ideas, playing laterally inside their own 22 and unable to breach a thick green wall of defenders. When Rieko Ioane knocked on in the 79th minute, the Irish players knew they had victory secure. The Ireland bench celebrated, the rest of the squad poured out of the stands to join them and Peter O’Mahony was seen in tears as Conor Murray put in the final scrum of the game. It was only seconds later before it was all over and the joy spilled back onto the pitch. History had been made with it the future was looking very bright for Ireland.

NEW ZEALAND: J Barrett, W Jordan, R Ioane (R Tuivasa-Sheck, 68), D Havili, S Reece (R Mo’unga, 61); B Barrett, A Smith (F Fakatava, 61); G Bowers (K Tu’inukuafe, 71), C Taylor (D Coles, 61), N Laulala (O Tu’ungafasi, HT, Laulala – HIA); B Retallick, S Whitelock; A Ioane, S Cane – captain (D Papalii, 63), A Savea.

Replacement not used:, T Vaa’i 

IRELAND: H Keenan; M Hansen, R Henshaw, B Aki (K Earls, 68), J Lowe; J Sexton – captain (J Carbery, 76), J Gibson-Park (C Murray, 71); A Porter (C Healy, 69), D Sheehan (R Herring, 62), T Furlong (F Bealham, 69); T Beirne (K Treadwell, 76), J Ryan; P O’Mahony (J Conan, 66), J van der Flier (C Healy, 57-61 – front row YC rep), C Doris.

Yellow card: Porter 50-60 

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

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