Andy Farrell believes his Ireland side passed the toughest test in world rugby after beating New Zealand 32-22 to secure a historic 2-1 series win in Wellington.
Having become the first Ireland men’s side to beat the All Blacks on Kiwi soil last week, Farrell’s side put in a stunning first-half display to clinch their first series win in the country despite a 42-19 defeat in the opening Test.
Ireland took a 19-point lead into the break at Sky Stadium after scores from Josh van der Flier, Hugo Keenan and Robbie Henshaw.
When the game resumed, the All Blacks stormed back with scores from Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan, but Rob Herring crossed the whitewash to wrap up an unprecedented series win for Ireland.
“This is a special group. To come over here and achieve what they have achieved, it won’t be done again knowing what is going to happen [with the likely revamp of the July tour schedule],” said Farrell.
“This is probably the toughest thing to do in world rugby. We came over here with task in hand and went for it straight from the start. We said it was going to be the start of our World Cup year, but I think it is a little bit bigger than that.
“They keep turning up and surprising me, certainly. They really do believe. After the first game, we got held up over the try line five times, and they knew there was a better performance in them.”
The win was Ireland’s fifth victory in eight games against the All Blacks since the side’s first ever win over them in Chicago back in 2016.
Prior to that win, Ireland had suffered 28 consecutive Test defeats at the hands of New Zealand dating back to 1905.
But Farrell believes that the series-deciding win at Sky Stadium will trump all previous triumphs against the three-time World Cup winners.
He added: “These guys have won a lot of stuff and broken some records – this one will top it, I would have thought.
“It works both ways. We talked about not getting carried away with ourselves – we knew they were going to come back, but we dusted ourselves down and got back on task.
“The composure of the boys – they deserve everything they get.”
Jonathan Sexton has started at fly-half in all five of Ireland’s wins against the All Blacks.
He kicked three conversions and two penalties in Wellington, scoring ten points that proved decisive at full time.
And the Ireland legend was glad that the side gave the fans that woke up early the best possible start to their Saturday.
“I bet you we had 4 million people at home up for breakfast, probably having a couple of pints,” he said.
“The effort was incredible. It is a very special day – we are playing against the best in the world, the very best, so to come down here and do it is very special.
“It starts with the main man, [Andy Farrell], he has come in and changed some things, stuck with some older guys and got criticised, but it is all credit to him really.
“It means a lot now. In a year’s time, when the World Cup starts, it won’t mean anything, as we’ve learned before, and we will certainly enjoy tonight and maybe a couple more days. But we must keep improving – that’s what we have learned in the past.”