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Ireland claim historic New Zealand series win as pressure mounts on All Blacks

By Alex McLeod
(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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For the first time in history, Ireland have beaten the All Blacks in back-to-back tests to claim a breakthrough series victory on New Zealand soil.

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Beating the Kiwis in a match for the ages at Sky Stadium in Wellington, Ireland have cemented themselves as one of rugby’s heavyweight nations, putting the All Blacks to the sword in a first half beating the New Zealanders couldn’t recover from.

As such, their 32-22 win will now surely put New Zealand Rugby [NZR] under immense pressure to reconsider the position of All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and his assistants as their side falls into one of their worst ruts in recent history.

For the first time since 1998, the All Blacks have been beaten in successive test matches at home, leading to just their third-ever series defeat in New Zealand.

Already in a worst-ever World Rugby ranking of fourth place, the All Blacks have now lost four of their last five test matches as Foster’s win rate at the helm of the national side continues to fall.

With a two-test tour of South Africa to open their Rugby Championship campaign looming large on the horizon, NZR’s board must now be forced to consider their options as the All Blacks enter unwanted and uncharted territory.

In saying all of that, this monumental result was almost avoided as the All Blacks mounted a second half comeback, but the lead acquired by Ireland proved too large to overcome as they looked the dominant force from the outset.

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Whether it was Caelan Doris bursting through a Nepo Laulala tackle or an intricate Irish backline move that got the better of their Kiwi counterparts, the tourists made their presence felt, and they eventually reaped the rewards they deserved.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane was pinged for tackling a player without the ball, and after surprisingly turning down an easy three-point attempt, Ireland crashed over from the back of a rolling maul through Josh van der Flier inside the first four minutes.

It was a rude awakening for the All Blacks, who were punished for their sleepy start and tried to make up for it by hitting back with an aerial assault and strong ball carries from their forwards.

That much led to a penalty attempt from right out in front when Bundee Aki was penalised for hands in the ruck, which Jordie Barrett failed to convert into points by pushing his kick out to the right.

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Not to be dismayed, the All Blacks continued to pressurise Ireland, but were constantly let down by handling errors inside the opening quarter of the contest.

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Only until David Havili produced an opportunistic 50/22 did the All Blacks manage to get themselves on scoresheet after the Irish infringed at the breakdown.

Barrett – sporting a fresh new buzz cut – made no mistake with his second shot at goal from point-blank range which appeared to instil the All Blacks with a sense of confidence with ball in hand.

Such optimism, however, was short-lived.

Gaining a ton of territory through Johnny Sexton’s boot via a breakdown penalty won by Van der Flier, Ireland clinically picked the All Blacks apart with some typically well-structured backline attack.

Unlocking the Kiwi defence with precision in a handful of phases, a Mack Hansen skip pass put James Lowe into space down the left edge, and simple draw-and-pass enabled fullback Hugo Keenan to scorch over for his side’s second try of the encounter.

Sexton provided the extras with a conversion and penalty goal to give Ireland a double-digit lead which they never really looked like surrendering before half-time.

Their attacking shape and creativity looked worlds apart from that of the All Blacks, who looked devoid of any ideas to cut the Irish pieces as they did to them.

All of this was exemplified when Robbie Henshaw strolled in untouched for Ireland’s third try near half-time, with Sexton combining beautifully with Aki through some lovely short passing and deft running lines.

With the 35,890crowd left in a state of disbelief at the 22-3 half-time scoreline, the All Blacks simply had to be the next team to score, and they did exactly that in just a few minutes into the second half.

Rolling their sleeves up and attacking the fringes of the ruck, the All Blacks got to work to crash and bash their way over Ireland’s advantage line, eventuating in a hard-earned try to Ardie Savea following more than 20 phases of action.

Fuelled by a wave of renewed hope, New Zealand’s hopes of a comeback were bolstered by Andrew Porter’s yellow card for head contact with Brodie Retallick, which forced the All Blacks lock from the field.

Legitimate questions have to be asked as to how Porter wasn’t sent from the field given the circumstances around his infringement barely had any dissimilarities to that of Angus Ta’avao when he was red-carded for a head clash with Robbie Henshaw last week.

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Regardless, the All Blacks made their numerical advantage count with immediate effect in the form of a powerful surge by Akira Ioane, who brushed past four defenders with ease to delight his teammates and fans.

All of a sudden, Ireland’s 19-point buffer had evaporated to a seven-point lead, which meant Sexton’s second penalty goal from an easy vantage point was much-needed in a bid to halt New Zealand’s onslaught.

The veteran first-five would have had a third had the ball not rattled off the crossbar from his 50-metre attempt, which would have pushed Ireland back out to a double-digit lead.

Instead, the All Blacks hit back virtually straight away, with Will Jordan producing an exceptional moment of magic.

Running a stunning line from a Savea short ball, Jordan broke away into an open backfield and outpaced everyone in his wake to bring the All Blacks to within just three points of the Irish.

Barrett could have cut that lead to just one point, but his conversion attempt was scrubbed out as the ball sailed directly over the right-hand upright.

Still, the All Blacks clearly had the upper hand in the second half’s first 20 minutes, and Ireland needed to pull something out of the bag to quell New Zealand’s surging momentum.

That came when reserve hooker Rob Herring battered his way through the Kiwi defence to score from a lineout handed to Ireland after the All Blacks let their discipline get the better of them in the immediate aftermath of Jordan’s try.

Desperate to close the gap on the scoreboard as the match ticked into its closing stages, the All Blacks squandered numerous opportunities deep inside enemy territory inside the final 10 minutes.

The overeagerness of reserve players like Folau Fakatava was counterproductive to the outcome the All Blacks were trying to achieve.

Not even the introduction of star debutant Roger Tuivasa-Sheck could revive the All Blacks as their familiar failings of poor skill execution and ill-thought tactics bit them hard.

Time will tell as to whether Foster and his colleagues will survive the aftermath of this result. For now, though, Ireland will revel in the glory of this result for the months – and years – to come.

Ireland 32 (Tries to Josh van der Flier, Hugo Keenan, Robbie Henshaw and Rob Herring; 3 conversions and 2 penalties to Johnny Sexton)

All Blacks 22 (Tries to Ardie Savea, Akira Ioane and Will Jordan; 2 conversions and penalty to Jordie Barrett)

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