A second win over the All Blacks in the last three meetings is a significant enough achievement for Ireland but what is even more satisfying is the team which got the job done this time around. Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Seán O’brien were joined on the injury list by Dan Leavy just the day before kick-off. Consider also that when Ireland beat New Zealand for the first time in Chicago in November 2016, four of Saturday’s starters — Bundee Aki Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Jacob Stockdale — as well as replacements Jordan Larmour, Luke Mcgrath and Andrew Porter had yet to make their Test debuts while the more experienced Peter O’mahony, Iain Henderson and Keith Earls all missed the historic day at Soldier Field due to fitness, injury and suspension issues respectively.
It all means that 32 Irishmen have experienced victory over the best team in the world and though three, Jamie Heaslip, Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble, have retired since 2016, that leaves a lot of what Schmidt likes to call “big caps” in his pool from which to select a World Cup squad next year.
After a week of praising New Zealand’s prowess at set-pieces, Ireland dismantled every facet at the Aviva on Saturday. The sight of the All Black front row being substituted en masse after 47 minutes was a good indication that the scrum had not been going well and penalties were being conceded while Ireland’s lineout was a marked improvement on the previous week’s outing against Argentina as Rory Best found his targets 10 times out of 10. “The scrum, the line-out in that first half, jeez, it’s hard for an opponent if our scrum, and those two or three really good ones that we got, that builds pressure and it gives us confidence as well,” Schmidt said of the set-piece that gave his side such a strong platform to put New Zealand on the back foot.
As memorable as Ireland’s first ever win over the All Blacks was in Chicago two years ago, there was something special about them repeating the feat on home soil, 113 years after the first of 16 visits to Lansdowne Road ended in a 15-0 defeat by the Original ABS. Ireland had had just one draw to show for those first 15 contests with the renowned tourists, in 1973, but Saturday changed all that and what an atmosphere to provide the backdrop.
It had been loud in 2013 when the All Blacks broke Irish hearts to nick a 24-22 victory. Yet from the first strains of Amhrán na bhfiann to the rousing rendition of the ‘Fields of Athenry’ which gave way to a thunderous roar at the final whistle, Ireland’s supporters did their team proud by producing a crackling electricity throughout and Schmidt was certainly appreciative of their efforts.
“It’s a bit special at home and it was a bit special tonight because of what happened in 2013, because of how the crowd were. I thought the crowd were unbelievable and if you need a 16th man, there’s not many better places to go than Aviva Stadium, Dublin.”
For all the confidence this 16-9 victory will bring to the Ireland camp heading towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the result has made the rest of the rugby world take notice of the way New Zealand were kept tryless and in single figures for the first time since South Africa won 13-3 in Wellington in 1998. It was also the first time the All Blacks have been kept under 10 points since their 2011 World Cup final arm-wrestle with France in Auckland, though they won that won 8-7 to lift the trophy.
New Zealand’s defeat also comes off the back of a Rugby Championship campaign in which they seriously tested by a resurgent Argentina and beaten by the Springboks once more in Wellington, almost losing the return fixture in Pretoria when they trailed 30-18 with eight minutes to play but coming back to win 32-30.
If the seeds of doubt surrounding the All Blacks were sown during the summer, there was another knock to the mystique of the sport’s most iconic brand nine days ago when they fell to an early 15-0 lead by England, only to scramble a 16-15 win.
New Zealand remain favourites for Japan 2019 but Ireland’s deserved victory makes next year’s cup less of a foregone conclusion.