Andy Farrell’s squad of 2022 have achieved what no other team in green has in the 46 years since Ireland rugby first set foot in New Zealand in 1976 – an away win. Six years after their first victory over New Zealand in more than a century of trying, Ireland have now won four of the past seven encounters with the three-times world champions. Wins in Chicago and a Dublin deuce are now joined by this most historic result in Dunedin, becoming the first northern hemisphere team since France’s 27-22 win in 2009 to claim a victory there.
“I’m just so pleased for the players because they are so desperate to inspire people back home,” said Farrell. “They keep turning up time and time again and doing special things for Irish rugby and for the Irish people.
“I’m so glad they were able to get over the line because it had a bit of everything, didn’t it? It was a courageous effort. We were as courageous as we were last week.”
Ah, last week. After the pulverising defeat at Eden Park the Ireland head coach had the usual chirping from the sidelines suggesting different personnel. Such voices have clearly not read the Wiganer’s script of selection consistency since his appointment. “I don’t listen to people calling for changes, it’s irrelevant, I do what’s right for the team.”
Instead he, as usual, kept faith with the squad, with Mack Hansen the only change for Keith Earls, and they repaid him with a performance of greater physicality and penetration, against an All Black team reeling from the Irish efforts led by the outstanding Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne and their own ill-discipline.
Two tries from the most unlikely of sources, the prop Andrew Porter, touching down early in each half – the third and 48th minutes – allowed the visitors to first take the lead then extend it. The second came at the perfect time as New Zealand appeared to be getting an unlikely toe-hold with a Beauden Barrett try on 39 minutes after two yellow cards. The first for Leicester Fainga’anuku, who was lucky not to walk permanently for a dangerous shoulder-led chargedown on Hansen; and the second a cheeky pullback by Ofa Tu’ungafasi on Garry Ringrose as he was about to receive the ball with the line begging. It should have been ruled a penalty try. The referee, Jaco Peyper, disagreed.
Less up for debate was the red card shown on 30 minutes to Tu’ungafasi’s replacement, Angus Ta’avao, for a reckless and upright head-on-head tackle, again Ringrose the victim and ruling him out of the contest. This loss of New Zealand personnel via Peyper’s jack-in-the-box card pocket was compounded by the head coach, Ian Foster, mistakenly removing his captain, Ardie Savea, from the game in the midst of the plethora of cards on the half-hour, no doubt believing he would be allowed to return. He was not.
A lesser team than the All Blacks would have conceded more under the first-half barrage; instead they withstood while depriving the tourists of any further points after a 10th minute Johnny Sexton penalty, before Barrett struck that psychological and scoreboard blow close to half-time.
This was the tester for an Ireland team that could not assert itself and became frustrated seven days ago, but after Porter’s early second-half try calmed fevered nerves, Sexton kicked two more penalties to make it comfortable. An enjoyable position that a yellow card for James Ryan and a late try for Will Jordan could not shake them from. Some will point to the reduced All Black personnel as a factor in their defeat but Ireland looked the winning side from the start, regardless of numbers.
“We hit the ground running and piled some pressure on them and what was most pleasing is we didn’t get sucked into the allure of the game, New Zealand going down to 14 men, then going down to 13 men,” said a satisfied Farrell.
“It’s very emotional creating a bit of history today but the job’s not done. All that matters is next week now,” said Porter, “It’s hard to put into words how I feel right now. It’ll be even sweeter if we can pull off the win next week as well.”
“It was a very special day. Any time you create history it means a lot,” said Sexton. A tantalising evening in Wellington awaits.