Ireland 29 New Zealand 20
At the end of a throbbing, absorbing and often deafening afternoon at a feverish Aviva, not many in the capacity crowd were remotely of a mind to hit the night, which is usually a good sign.
Instead, they preferred to soak in an Irish performance of utterly unrelenting intensity and equal bravery in its ambition, not to mention an at times astonishing defensive display by the All Blacks.
For the vast majority of the 80 minutes, Ireland attacked with the ball in hand as if their lives depended on it, and the All Blacks defended their line as if their lives depended on it, even though they’ve been away from home since August.
So after waiting over a century and 28 meetings over the team that Ireland seemed incapable of beating, Ireland recorded a third win in the last five meetings.
This had echoes of both Chicago and three years ago, and might possibly have been the best of the three performances. In any event, no less than those two, this was completely deserved.
As in Chicago, Ireland eschewed three pointers and went for their tries, and as in Chicago on his debut, Joey Carbery steered the ship home in the final quarter.
But it also had the almost manic intensity and accuracy in the carries and recycling which was symptomatic of 2018 and, come to think the one that got away in 2013.
Ireland mixed up their attack brilliantly using their big carriers up front, often their frontrowers both primary carriers, and also decoys when moving the ball behind three-man pod.
Andrew Porter, a top lad whose move back to loosehead has almost single-handedly transformed this dynamic Irish pack, although the emergence of Rónan Kelleher and Caelan Doris, monstrously good here, have helped too.
The vast majority of the crowd were also seated in advance of the teams’ arrival for the presidential salute, the three anthems and the haka which, as is custom hereabouts if less so in Tokyo, was afforded respectful silence for the most part until The Fields echoed around the stadium to drown out the ending.
There were about 20,000 camera phone recordings, whether it was Irish fans keeping warm on a remarkably mild November afternoon, there was a fair sprinkling of black among the green as well.
The crowd were quickly and completely engaged by the ambition Ireland showed from the start, winning collisions, going through the phases and using at least three decoy runners to reach Andrew Conway on the right touchline.
Although the move ended with Iain Henderson coming in from the side, Ireland brought the same early physicality to their defence. Tadhg Furlong and Doris flew off the line to so distract Ardie Savea that he knocked on.
Even so, the first threat came from New Zealand, when the quicksilver Will Jordan beat Hugo Keenan to Beauden Barrett’s crosskick before he was brilliantly tackled by James Lowe. As brave and important was the double tackle by Conway and Garry Ringrose to stop Jordie Barrett at full tilt.
Ireland escaped when Kelleher picked off TJ Perenara’s pass close to the line, helped by Bundee Aki flicking the scrumhalf’s arm.
Although Kelleher’s first lineout was an overthrow, it reaped a reward. Johnny Sexton bravely gathered and recourse to the TMO showed that Codie Taylor caught him around the head before shoulder charging him late. The hooker was binned for the first offence and also penalised for the second, and Sexton opted for the corner.
The maul was held up, but Ireland powered through the phases after Jamison Gibson-Park hit Ringrose, as Furlong, Kelleher and James Ryan won collisions.
Playing with house money, a penalty advantage, Gibson-Park and Sexton pulled the trigger for Aki to hit Keenan with a pacey miss-pass and once more the fullback’s pass was perfectly weighted and placed for Lowe to finish sharply by the corner flag against Jordan Barrett, who was defending from almost behind his line.
Alas, this week, Sexton’s touchline conversion faded past the far upright at the last.
Turning down another probable three-pointer to pound the New Zealand line without reward once more, no one could complain about Ireland’s intent. No one was.
After a Jordie Barrett penalty, back they came again off a Ryan lineout steal, Lowe sidestepping tackles and offloading one-handed like an octopus for the supporting Jack Conan. Moments later, Ringrose sold Joe Moody a dummy which he bought all ends up.
They appeared to have made it 12-3 when Kelleher peeled off a lineout maul at full tilt and a couple of recycles later Furlong burst the tackle of Richie Mo’unga, on for Beauden Barrett after his failed HIA, to score.
But recourse to the TMO showed that Kelleher had propelled himself forward after being tackled to the ground.
Instead, Sevu Reece reclaimed a high ball and off the ensuing All Blacks lineout, they set up a decoy maul off Brodie Retallick’s throw as Dalton Papalii peeled around the tail. Kelleher drifted while Furlong stood stationary, pointing to someone inside and Papalii sped through the inviting gap and find the supporting Taylor on his inside.
Two fleeting chances, one taken, and they led 10-5 when it might easily have been 12-3 or 15-3.
Still they kept hammering away, the crowd roaring ceaselessly with approval.
One 15-phase attack – Sexton came closest when tackled inches short, although there were plenty of those – was followed immediately by another bout of pressure when Lowe retrieved Perenara’s box-kick fractionally inside the line. Again no reward.
Breathtaking attacking. Astonishing defending.
For a third time in the half, Sexton turned down a probable three by opting for the corner, but Kelleher’s throw slipped through Ryan’s hands.
The All Blacks somehow trooped off 10-5 up, having made twice the tackles and Ireland having had twice the possession and innumerable more charges to within inches of the line.
Undeterred, Ireland resumed their attacking assault on the resumption. Sexton worked his wraparound off a lineout, and there was plenty of distracting animation as Lowe came across to release Conway but was still met by a posse of defenders.
Even so, again Ireland’s footwork and acceleration into contact inched them remorselessly towards the line yet again and this time Kelleher somehow burrowed over through three tackles, helped by Ryan’s latch.
Even better followed after Aki’s strong carry was the fulcrum of another launch play off a lineout, and Kelleher also made a huge and important carry before Doris broke Taylor’s tackle and accelerated over from outside the 22.
His previous conversion having hit the post, Sexton converted and added a penalty for a 20-10, two-score lead and relative breathing space before an interminable exchange between Luke Pearce and TMO Tom Foley as to whether Reece had knocked-on before or after the line, meaning a defending five-metre scrum or goal-line drop out, took the sting out of the game and the atmosphere.
Whereupon, as they do, the All Blacks conjured a try out of nothing. David Havili floated a long pass to Jordan who chipped ahead for Rieko Ioane to gather and offload back inside for the winger score under the posts.
The battering, some of it late, on Sexton took its toll but Carbery’s first act was helpfully positive, a penalty in front of the posts.
The All Blacks looked to have gone in front when Akira Ioane took a flat line from his brother Reiko to pierce the green line and touch down, but replays showed it had been fractionally forward. So Sam Whitelock opted for the three points from an earlier penalty.
The All Blacks looked sure to go the length of the field after Ardie Savea’s power led a breakout but a superb read by Lowe on Reiko Ioane and Peter O’Mahony’s strength over the ball earned the penalty on halfway which Carbery nailed.
So, a la 2013, the All Blacks had to score a converted try from deep, and no likelier team to do it.
The Irish defence swarmed all over them like green mosquitos. Furlong won a turnover, but unluckily knocked on. Next time though, Tadhg Beirne nailed it. O’Mahony danced a jig and Beirne was engulfed by team-mates who appreciated the enormity of the moment.
The Munstermen off the bench had delivered. Near the press box, Johann van Graan smiled and clapped as Carbery’s penalty sealed the deal.
Ireland claimed the restart and having scored the first try and played the game of his life against the country of his birth, Lowe ran back towards the Irish goal-line at the Havelock Square end and thumped the ball dead.
With that the crowd went wild for the umpteenth and last time, hanging around to soak it in and give it one last blast of The Field before applauding the players.
SCORING SEQUENCE – 14 mins: Lowe try 5-0; 19: J Barrett pen 5-3; 32: Taylor try, J Barrett con 5-10; (half-time 5-10); 44: Kelleher try 10-10; 51: Doris try, Sexton con 17-10; 57: Sexton pen 20-10; 62: Jordan try, J Barrett con 20-17; 66: Carbery pen 23-17; 70: J Barrett pen 23-20; 74: Carbery pen 26-17; 79: Carbery pen.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Andrew Conway (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster); Caelan Doris (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster).
Replacements: Tadhg Beirne (Munster) for Henderson (47 mins), Rob Herring (Ulster) for Kelleher, Peter O’Mahony (Munster) for Van der Flier (both 59), Finlay Bealham (Connacht) for Furlong, Joey Carbery (Munster) for Sexton (both 64), Conor Murray (Munster) for Gibson-Park, Keith Earls (Munster) for Aki (both 72), Cian Healy (Leinster) for Porter (76).
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sevu Reece; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Ethan Blackadder, Dalton Papali’i, Ardie Savea.
Replacements: Dane Coles for Blackadder (20-23 mins) and for Coles (53), Richie Mo’unga for B Barrett (22), David Havili for Lienert-Brown (39), Karl Tu’inukuafe for Moody, Tyrel Lomax for Laulala (both 53), Akira Ioane for Blackadder (61).
Sinbinned: Taylor (13-23 mins).
Referee: Luke Pearce (England).