For just the third time in history, Ireland recorded victory over the All Blacks, prevailing in a pulsating match with a performance former New Zealand winger Sir John Kirwan labelled as the “perfect match”.
The home side, in front of a packed 51,000 strong crowd in Dublin produced a superb 80 minutes which snuffed out any chance of Ian Foster’s side maintaining their 100% European tour record.
New Zealand were rocked by an early try from one of their own, former Chiefs winger James Lowe, before getting back into the match before half-time after Rónan Kelleher’s try was chalked off for a double movement.
But Ireland were inspired, with Kelleher eventually scoring after the break, and Caelan Doris also scorching over to give the hosts a lead with was extended by a further three Joey Carbery penalties.
The All Blacks, and certainly the media pundits on The Breakdown – consisting of former players Jeff Wilson, Mils Muliaina and Kirwan – were quick to praise Ireland’s latest triumph but questioned whether their own side’s dependence on a single gameplan has left them vulnerable in evenly fought matches.
“The pressure is on, totally,” Kirwan said. “If they go on to beat France, you can say that they’ll be relatively happy [with the tour], but the bigger picture is fast line speed, someone who matches our aggression, when we can’t get hold of the ball, do we have a Plan B?
New Zealand has most definitely not had things all its own way in recent years, and their semi-final defeat at the hands of England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup proved that Foster’s men are just as beatable as any team in the world when the squad is not at their best.
For the Kiwis, so often dominant and with a rugby culture which demands so much, a third defeat to Ireland in five years is not the end of the world, but the manner in which the game slipped from their grasp in Dublin left ex-All Black full back Muliaina keen for a revised gameplan to prevent similar defeats from becoming a regular occurrence.
“We keep saying that you should try to reinvent the wheel, but I think there needs to be some subtle changes,” Muliaina said.
“The frustrating part [about the defeat] is that we didn’t have any ball, and when we got the ball, we panicked, and these guys who panicked are pretty well-established.
“We struggled to get into the game, struggled for momentum and the end result was that we lost.”
The degree to which Ireland manage to execute their gameplan better than the All Blacks was ultimately what won the game for Andy Farrell’s side. Particularly when looking at the forward pass from Rieko Ioane which could have produce the try to take New Zealand back into the lead late in the game (the score was 26-20 to Ireland at the time), combined with a fiercer breakdown defence which yielded the final Carbery penalty.
Perhaps, the elusive Plan B isn’t in the All Blacks game because it simply doesn’t need to be; they simply lost to the side which managed the 50-50s better on the day. Talk of mental and physical fatigue may also come into the mix, but there is now no doubt that the southern/northern hemisphere gap is becoming ever narrower by the weekend, and rugby is all the better for it!