Ireland stun the All Blacks in Chicago for historic first win over New Zealand
One hundred and eleven years of frustration, and maybe even anger, ended for Ireland this morning (NZT) when they stunned the All Blacks by beating them 40-29 in Chicago.
This victory for the Irish, their first in 29 attempts since they first met the New Zealanders in Dublin in 1905, was greeted with unbridled joy by the Irish fans inside the massive Soldier Field stadium, while their New Zealand counterparts could only hold their heads with frustration.
Yes, it put an end to the All Blacks' tier one world-record run of 18 consecutive victories, and they would rue that error-ridden opening 50 minutes, but it's also important to acknowledge that they were rolled by an opponent that was prepared to mix courage with an adventurous game plan.
And it looked like the All Blacks would once again execute the Great Escape, just as they did when they beat the Irish in extra time in Dublin in 2013, but a late try to Irish midfielder Robbie Henshaw put this result to bed.
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The All Blacks, trailing 30-8 early in the second half closed the gap to 33-29 with about 15 minutes on the clock left, but handling errors and errant passes meant there was no chance of repeating that heist in Dublin.
Chicago must be getting sick of parties. They are still going nuts after the Cubs won the World Series baseball title, now anyone who has got Irish heritage is going to be hitting the bars at a spectacular rate of knots.
Ireland weren't just creative and brave. They were also clever enough to know they couldn't dare squander the chance to exploit the New Zealanders' depleted defence as they watched Joe Moody leave the field inside the 10th minute.
Loosehead prop Moody's tip tackle on midfielder Robbie Henshaw was always going to result with a trip to the sideline, and Ireland pounced; rather than kick for goal from the penalty they went for the line, constructed a lineout drive and somehow, amid the pile of tangled limbs and buckled torsos, flanker Jodie Murphy emerged a try scorer.
That wasn't the end of the bad medicine. The All Blacks lost another lineout (they botched three in the opening 40 minutes), and conceded their sixth penalty when Liam Squire unleashed a high shot; Ireland captain Rory Best called for a lineout drive, and from the subsequent play No 6 CJ Stander scored.
The problem for the All Blacks was that they just couldn't get any fluidity into their structures. Their makeshift lineout, having been robbed of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock because of injury before the tour, lacked cohesion, recalled halfback Aaron Smith had a rotten day, and was hooked minutes into the second half, and they gave away far too many penalties.
Smith just couldn't get going. His trademark bullet passes struggled to hit their targets, and he when his opposite Conor Murray scored his try off the edge of a ruck Smith wasn't around to sack him.
A leg injury to midfielder Ryan Crotty added to their problems; he looked angry and disappointed as he limped off, and that forced Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala to form an unfamiliar partnership in the heart of the backline.
Trailing 25-8 at halftime, the All Blacks were have vowed to strike first after the break. They didn't. Instead it was the Irish, through left wing Simon Zebo, who stretched them down the left flank and that really put the heat on.
TJ Perenara, Ben Smith and Scott Barrett, in his test debut, scored tries as the All Blacks began to fight back and it looked as if the Irish would wilt. But you have to keep taking your chances. The All Blacks gave away an obstruction penalty from the kick off, Charlie Faumuina got the fumbles, Julian Savea dropped a pass. You could go on.
This wasn't theirs to win. Irish eyes are smiling. Deservedly so.
Ireland 40 (Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, Robbie Henshaw tries; Johnny Sexton 3 con, 3 pen) All Blacks 29 (George Moala, TJ Perenara, Ben Smith, Scott Barrett tries; Beauden Barrett 3 con, pen). HT: 40-29.