DUBLIN – Six Nations holders Ireland beat world champions New Zealand for the first time at home on Saturday, winning a frenetic contest 16-9 in Dublin.
A converted Jacob Stockdale try – his 12th in 14 Tests – proved the difference as the hosts came out on top in the clash between the two top-ranked teams in the world.
For Ireland, who claimed an 11th successive home win, it was their second victory under New Zealander coach Joe Schmidt in four meetings with the All Blacks, having recorded their first ever in Chicago in 2016.
“We showed real character out there today,” said Ireland captain Rory Best. “The difference to two years ago here in Dublin (a 21-9 loss) is we didn’t score any tries. Today we did.
“I am so proud of the boys.”
All Blacks skipper Kieran Read said there were no excuses.
“The Irish were too good for us,” Read told RTE. “They defended really well.”
The Irish were pinned back inside their five-metre line early on, but produced tackle after tackle – prop Cian Healy making five in around 90 seconds – and eventually excellent work by Josh van der Flier won the hosts a penalty to clear.
Ireland then took the game to the All Blacks with New Zealand-born Bundee Aki – who had sung his adopted country’s anthem in Gaelic with great gusto – prominent in their attacks.
Eventually the pressure told and Read strayed offside, with Johnny Sexton slotting over the penalty to give the home side a 3-0 lead in the 11th minute.
Ireland had spoken all week about how important it was not to make mistakes, even deep inside All Blacks territory, and they paid the price when Best spilled the ball inside the visitors’ 22.
A long kick back upfield by Ben Smith resulted in Rob Kearney ultimately being penalised, and Beauden Barrett converted the penalty to level the match.
The Irish, though, had their opponents rattled, and forced the Kiwis into infringement after infringement in a desperate effort to keep them out.
One of those led to Sexton’s delightful chip over the defence, which saw Kearney touch the ball down, but the try was ruled out on review as he lost control of the ball.
However, Sexton kicked the penalty for 6-3 as the game neared the half-hour mark.
Within a minute the visitors were level as Barrett, having waited till his 71st Test to drop his first goal against England last week, landed another.
But it was all Ireland in attack, and the All Blacks were so unnerved that referee Wayne Barnes had to warn Read that the next player to incur his ire would be yellow-carded, after they committed their seventh offence of the half.
Sexton chose to kick and converted it for a 9-6 halftime lead.
The All Blacks had a golden opportunity to turn the game around five minutes into the second half when Read charged down Stockdale’s ambitious chip, but the rangy No 8 knocked on.
The New Zealand scrum was being steam-rollered by the Irish, and coach Steve Hansen rang the changes only eight minutes after halftime, removing the entire front row.
Their first job was to stand behind the posts as Stockdale found that if you keep probing, things can come off.
He received the ball from Aki and then chipped, outstripping the defence to collect it, before barging over despite Aaron Smith’s desperate tackle.
It brought him a mobbing from his teammates and regular first-choice scrumhalf Conor Murray – who has not played all season due to a neck injury – to his feet while watching on from a suite in the stadium.
Sexton converted brilliantly for 16-6.
The All Blacks hit their straps at last, but time and again the Irish repelled them, with Peter O’Mahony preventing a certain try by getting back to gather Barrett’s brilliant grubber kick.
O’Mahony forced another turnover a few minutes later, and had his teammates pumping their fists in the air and the Irish fans launching into song.
Barrett added a penalty to put the visitors a converted try away from a draw, but such was the stoutness of the Irish defence, the world champions came up short.
Ireland 16 – Try: Jacob Stockdale. Conversion: Johnny Sexton (1). Penalty: Sexton (3).
All Blacks 9 – Penalties: Beauden Barrett (2). Drop Goal: Barrett (1).AFP