“ We’ve done it in Australia. I thought we might one day it in South Africa, when the Springboks would be in one of their disorganised periods. But New Zealand, the All Blacks, on their pitches, in their rugby heartlands like Dunedin and Wellington?”
We’ve done it in Australia. I thought we might one day it in South Africa, when the Springboks would be in one of their disorganised periods.
But New Zealand, the All Blacks, on their pitches, in their rugby heartlands like Dunedin and Wellington?
No, never, that was never on my mind, but congratulations to every player in the 2022 Ireland travelling party, and the coaching staff, who made it happen.
You cannot beat the All Blacks without every player performing to his best, but I want to single out three of our heroes in green.
They are, in alphabetical order, Bundee Aki, Tadhg Beirne and Johnny Sexton.
Aki was pure power and doggedness. Every time Ireland needed to carry the ball, he was there. When a Kiwi had to be knocked back, he was there.
It was interesting to note how many of his defeated opponents came to embrace Bundee at the end. New Zealand’s rugby players know a warrior when they see one.
And a warrior is what Beirne was as well. The tackles, the line-out work, the robberies on the deck, he was immense for Ireland in Wellington.
And Johnny well, he conducted the orchestra, and he was clever about it. Ten years ago, Johnny thought he was a wing-forward like Peter O’Mahony and would hurtle into any tackle.
Now he knows better; at 37, he knows to avoid contact and let O’Mahony and Aki do that sort of stuff. Instead, Johnny just calls the shots, nails his kicks, and eases Ireland around the rugby pitch. Superb, we need one more big effort, over 14 months, from Johnny.
Tactically, Ireland got it spot on yesterday when, in the manner of the Kerry Gaelic football team, they decided to ‘hammer the hammer’, which is to take on your opponent where they are strongest. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have been the best line-out pairing in World Rugby for years .
But Ireland went after them yesterday, helped by the fact that New Zealand’s third jumper, Scott Barrett, had to pull out of the match late on.
The stats say Ireland only snaffled a couple of their hosts’ throws, but there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
Watch the first half again, and watch how many times Beirne, O’Mahony, James Ryan or Caelan Doris got pressure on the New Zealand line-out ball.
It was flapped back, slapped back, slapped beyond Aaron Smith at scrum-half so many times, because the Ireland jumpers were all over New Zealand’s throw-ins.
The home team just could not build momentum at all from this, their favoured set-piece. It does not take away at all from Ireland’s brilliant achievement if I point out that these are tough times for New Zealand rugby.
I mentioned that much when previewing the series a few weeks ago and it was clear, over the last two games, particularly, that some of the current All Black players are nowhere near the level of former greats like Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
The Men in Black were mere mortals yesterday, dropping balls, knocking on.
Some of their typical physicality was absent too, perhaps they have learned the lesson that referees will now card them if they go overboard.
New Zealand have now lost five of their last eight games against Ireland, even if they handsomely won the one that mattered – the 2019 World Cup quarter-final.
The Kiwis haven’t lost a home series since France triumphed in 1994.
They have now lost four of their last five Tests, and where are their next two? Both against South Africa in South Africa, ouch.
Coach Ian Foster will be under huge pressure on the back of this.
And there are two obvious candidates there to step into the role in Scott Robertson, who has been so successful in Super Rugby with Canterbury Crusaders, and of course our old coach Joe Schmidt.
Whatever New Zealand do, 14 months out from a World Cup, they are in a mess. I must mention their No 8 Ardie Savea who seemed to be playing Ireland on his own at times in Wellington.
How much of Ireland’s series win is down to New Zealand’s decision to take him off last week in Dunedin?
They could have taken anyone else off, but brought off a man who would be right there in the conversation for best player in the world just now.
That was a massive error by the coaching team, demonstrated all the more by Savea’s brilliance yesterday.
What next for Ireland? A well-earned holiday for everyone is first on the list, but coach Andy Farrell, ever one to move on, will already have the date of Saturday, November 5, on his mind. That’s the day Ireland play South Africa in Dublin.
“You’ve won a series in New Zealand lads, now go and back it up by taking down the World Champions at home” will be Farrell’s instruction to his troops.
After that, Ireland have their more favourable Six Nations schedule in 2023, with France and England coming to the Aviva.
After winning in New Zealand there is nothing left to fear.
Of course, later next year, comes Ireland’s stone in our rugby boot, our inability to get past the World Cup quarter-final.
Because of World Rugby’s decision to make the draw t more than two years ago, we have the farcical situation of the best four teams in the world right now, France, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand, all on the same side of the draw.
Thus two of the four will not be in the semi-finals.
Will we be one of the two to miss out again?
Maybe over the next 14 months, England, Wales and Australia’s rugby teams will come good and level up that pitch. Or maybe they won’t.
When Ireland come to that quarter-final they have to be ready and they will be helped in that cause by the efforts of the midweek team who got their act together last Tuesday and beat the Maori All Blacks.
They now give Farrell plenty of back-up and plenty of players coming through looking to be a part of something special.
That’s what we did in Wellington yesterday, something that will live long in the memory.
Me, I’m a Kerryman, living in Kilkenny, and Ireland are on top of the rugby world. Times are good, boy, times are good.