Jacob Stockdale’s second-half try saw Ireland make history as they recorded a remarkable first-ever home win over New Zealand.
The enthralling, bruising 16-9 victory in Dublin was the latest success in a brilliant 2018 for Joe Schmidt’s men that includes a Six Nations title, a Grand Slam and a series victory over Australia, Down Under.
It was a victory predicated on an impenetrable defence – this was the first time since 1995 that a northern hemisphere country kept the All Backs try-less – combined with a moment of brilliance from Stockdale early in the second half as he chipped ahead, collected and got over the whitewash for the game’s only try.
Ireland’s only previous victory over New Zealand in 113 years of trying came in Chicago in 2016 and while a late All Blacks onslaught conjured memories of the last-gasp victory they snatched to break Irish hearts in 2013, this time Schmidt’s men saw the game out to send the Aviva Stadium wild.
The physical nature of the encounter was epitomised early on with a couple of bruising carries from Bundee Aki in the 12 channel and early Irish pressure led to Jonathan Sexton slotting them into a 3-0 lead from in front of the posts.
But New Zealand quickly demonstrated their unique ability to punish mistakes in an instant as Rory Best knocked on in the attacking 22 and around 30 seconds later Beauden Barrett was levelling the score from the tee after a kick clear and fierce All Black chase forced Stockdale to hold on in the tackle in his own 22.
The momentum was largely with the hosts however and, with a partisan Aviva Stadium crowd roaring them on, Ireland demonstrated their intent by booting a number of kickable penalties to the corner in search of more than three points.
One CJ Stander drive did get them over the line, only for the No.8 to be held up by the covering All Blacks defence, and Rob Kearney then thought he had scored when he claimed the loose ball on the floor after a Sexton chip over the top and dotted down but the TMO ruled a knock-on just before the line.
Ireland eventually settled for three more points from in front of the sticks and although Barrett then nailed a drop goal for the second week running, a third Sexton penalty just before the break gave the Grand Slam champions a 9-6 lead at half-time.
And history soon beckoned when Stockdale’s try made the advantage 16-6 early in the second period – Sexton switching the point of attack inside to Aki, his long pass finding the Ulster winger who chipped over the defence and collected the bouncing ball before powerfully sliding over the whitewash with two defenders clinging on to him.
Unsurprisingly, the All Black wave steadily built from ten points behind but consistently disciplined, valiant Ireland defence denied them time and again – a long-distance Barrett penalty closing the gap to 16-9 all they had to show heading into the final seven minutes.
New Zealand pushed forward in the final stages, looking to replicate the drama of that 24-22 victory five years prior, but this time there was no great escape as they spilled the ball forward and sent the Aviva Stadium into raptures. WHAT THEY SAID
Ireland forward CJ Stander said: “It was tiring but you don’t get tired with this noise behind you. We said we wanted to learn hard in this game and what a way to learn.
“We said we were going to work in this November series for the Six Nations and we wanted to get a few new guys bled. Everyone stood up and played their part and this is massive for the fans and the country.
“We always pride ourselves on our attack but today our defence was unreal. People took their hearts out of their bodies and put it on the line. Everyone made it a personal battle.
“What a great day and what a day to celebrate.” Ireland captain Rory Best said: “Obviously we are pretty happy. We knew we were going to have to play well and attack them.
“To stop New Zealand scoring a try shows what a fantastic defensive effort it was. The boys are very tired but it’s amazing what a win like that can do for your energy levels.
“We weren’t happy with last week despite getting the win, but to perform like that shows what we can do. The problem is Joe Schmidt and the coaching staff will expect that every time we play!” PLAYER WATCH: Bundee Aki
It would easy to focus on Jacob Stockdale here, as his try was the moment of magic that won the game, but Bundee Aki was crucial in wearing down the All Blacks.
He may only have made 36 metres with ball in hand compared to Stockdale’s 74 but the inside centre was a battering ram in 12 channel – carrying the ball 18 times over 80 minutes.
Each one of those was a bruising crash into the heart of the New Zealand defence as he kept his legs churning to grind out yards and left opponents knowing they’d been in a battle.
He also provided the pass to Stockdale for the Ulster winger’s try, switching the point of attack to the left as the defence drifted right, which gave his team-mate the space to chip into. A key component of Ireland’s triumph. KEY MOMENT
Jacob Stockdale proved during the 2018 Six Nations that he has a nose for the whitewash by notching a Championship-record seven tries.
And that finisher’s instinct showed up again in Dublin as he grabbed the only try of the game in what was undoubtedly the key moment.
When he received the ball from Bundee Aki just inside the All Blacks half he had plenty to do but a perfectly-weighted dink over the top enabled him to burst through the defensive line.
He deftly collect the ball with an outstretched right hand and had just enough strength to slide towards the line with two defenders hanging off him before reach out to touch down.
Jonathan Sexton’s conversion made the score 16-6 and with Ireland’s incredible defence, that was more than enough. STAT WATCH – Winger Jacob Stockdale now has 12 tries in just 14 Ireland appearances – Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were starting their 50th Test together as New Zealand’s second-row pairing – Sean Cronin made his 56th Ireland appearance from the bench – the most substitute appearances of any player in international rugby history – Ireland have still not lost at home when leading at half-time since 2013, when the All Blacks came back to beat them in Dublin