A sensational performance from Ireland saw them beat New Zealand for the first time in their history with a 40-29 victory in Chicago on Saturday.
It was Ireland’s first win over the All Blacks in 29 Tests since 1905 and not only breaks 111 years of disappointment, but also brings to an end New Zealand’s Tier-1 Test record of 18 consecutive wins.
No Irish side has ever put 40 points past the All Blacks but this team did, scoring five tries in the process in what will go down as their most famous win and one of the best first-half performances ever.
Ireland led 25-8 at the break but remained weary as the New Zealanders are known for their ability to clinch tight matches in the second half and especially in the final 20 minutes. They nearly did it here again but Robbie Henshaw’s try four minutes from time sealed the result.
It was a brilliant first 40 by the men in green who did almost everything right. They were clearly up for this game and faced the Haka in a figure-of-eight formation as a tribute to Anthony Foley.
They were ambitious and fearless from the outset, taking New Zealand on at their own game. Most importantly, they kept the ball away from the men in black and played most of their rugby in the opposition half.
Johnny Sexton had a fantastic game, his tactical kicking top notch in driving the All Blacks back while his kicks at goal were also spot on.
Ireland made most of the play in the first half, dominating possession and territory well in excess of 70 percent. Sexton got proceeedings started with a penalty, but it was New Zealand who scored the first try. A break in the middle of the field from Waisake Naholo created the space, but he was brought down meters from the try-line.
He managed to offload the ball, but CJ Stander was in the way and the ball bounced off him and hit Kieran Read in the face before George Moala gathered and dived over. The ball against Read’s face was not ruled as a knock-on and the try stood.
But from there it was all Ireland. Joe Moody received a yellow card for a tip tackle during which time Ireland managed to score through Jordi Murphy.
Ireland had twice opted to kick for touch rather than poles when presented with kickable penalties and the second time it paid off. From a driving maul the Irish went over, but it was unclear if the ball had been grounded. The try was eventually given and once Ireland took the lead they never gave it back.
New Zealand struggled to cope with Ireland’s line speed and for the first time in a long time their defence looked vulnerable. They also made silly handling errors and lost three lineouts, but it was the seven penalties they conceded in the first half which raised the most eyebrows.
A massive touchline kick by Sexton took Ireland into the All Blacks 22. They went wide and a break from Rob Kearney took them within a metre from the line before Stander picked up the ball and barged over to extend the lead.
By this time Ireland were rampant with a 15-5 lead which turned into 18-8 after he and Barrett exchanged penalties.
The flaws in New Zealand’s defending were evident when Conor Murray gave a dummy from a ruck and ran through for an easy score which Sexton converted for a commanding 25-8 lead at the break.
But even then it was clear Ireland needed to keep it up for 80 minutes otherwise the All Blacks would almost certainly find a way back into the game.
Yet it was Joe Schmidt’s team who scored first in the second 40, Simon Zebo dotting down after an overlap on the blindside gave Sexton the soace to find him for the fourth try.
At 30-8 it seemed as if Ireland were clear to make history, but New Zealand turned things up and came back into the game with two quick tries from TJ Perenara and Ben Smith to close the gap to 30-22 with 25 minutes to play.
Ireland have come close to beating New Zealand in the past and if they threw it away from there it would have been a travesty, but they kept their nerve as Sexton slotted another penalty to extend the lead to 11 points.
When Scott Barrett hit a gap and charged towards the line to reach out and score the game was on with Ireland holding a slim four-point lead with 15 minutes left.
But Henway’s try at the death secured a thrilling win to get the crowd of 62 300 people, the largest attendance ever for a rugby match in the USA, on their feet.