|New Zealand (3) 22|
|Tries: Savea, A Ioane, Jordan Cons: J Barrett 2 Pen: J Barrett|
|Ireland (22) 32|
|Tries: Van der Flier, Keenan, Henshaw, Herring Cons: Sexton 3 Pens: Sexton 2|
Ireland held off a ferocious All Blacks fightback to claim a sensational, unprecedented 2-1 series win in New Zealand.
A week on from their first victory over the All Blacks on Kiwi soil, Ireland produced a near-faultless first half to open up a 19-point lead in Wellington.
Three tries in 20 minutes saw New Zealand roar back after the break to reduce the arrears to three.
However replacement Rob Herring’s score restored Ireland’s breathing space.
The series win will go down as one of Ireland’s greatest rugby achievements, against a side that tormented them in an utterly one-sided rivalry for over a century.
Coming in to the tour there was tentative optimism that Ireland could break their duck in New Zealand, but few outside the camp dared predict a series triumph.
There remains a great deal of rugby to be played before next year’s World Cup, but Ireland have never looked better-placed to break new ground on the biggest stage.
All Blacks struggle to meet occasion as Ireland rise
Since 2016 Ireland have, brick-by-brick, stripped New Zealand of the invincible aura that surrounded them for the first 111 years of the sides’ rivalry.
A first win, followed by a first home victory before, last week, a win on Kiwi soil.
What unfolded in Wellington on Saturday felt like a culmination of everything Ireland had gained from their recent triumphs – the fear factor had been totally eradicated.
In fact it was the All Blacks who crumbled under the weight of the occasion in the first half. Dishevelled in defence and unable to keep hold of the ball in attack, they failed to cope with Ireland’s accuracy and poise.
They knew from the previous two Tests that Ireland would start fast, and yet could not stop Josh van der Flier charging over from a rolling maul inside four minutes.
The hosts tried to find a rhythm and enjoyed moments of promise but failed to capitalise barring Jordie Barrett’s simple 23rd-minute penalty that came shortly after David Havili’s pinpoint 50:22.
By contrast Ireland knew what they wanted to do every time they moved into All Black territory. Hugo Keenan’s try came when the visitors used an advantage to quickly recycle the ball and flood the blindside, allowing Lowe to feed his full-back on the inside, with the last-gasp defensive efforts of Aaron Smith not enough to stop Keenan sliding over.
New Zealand were struggling for ideas and allowing frustration to seep through as Beauden Barrett’s off-the-ball clearout allowed Johnny Sexton to extend Ireland’s advantage.
When the All Blacks did get forward the Irish defence was well-drilled with Robbie Henshaw prominent, the centre expertly snuffing out Sevu Reece’s attempted break down the left.
Henshaw was rewarded for his efforts with Ireland’s third try of the half, sailing through as a well-rehearsed strike play caught out a disconnected Kiwi defence.
New Zealand come out firing
Throughout the week Ireland had spoke of a New Zealand backlash as something of an inevitability.
Their first-half showing was merely a continuation of the peculiar dysfunctionality that plagued them a week ago in Dunedin, but after the break they came out with something much closer to what rugby fans have come to expect from the All Blacks.
There was vicious power in their carries, feverish determination to keep the momentum going at every ruck and willing runners at every phase.
The change in approach paid off, with Ardie Savea charging over after 44 minutes and rocking Ireland for the first time.
The visitors narrowly avoided a considerably worse gut-punch when Andrew Porter was pinged for a head-on-head collision with Brodie Retallick, but referee Wayne Barnes decided that given the prop was absorbing the tackle it was only worth of a yellow card.
New Zealand wasted little time in capitalising on their advantage as Akira Ioane bounced off three tackles to bring his side to within five points.
It was a test of resilience that Ireland had failed in the first game of the series, when the All Blacks’ purple patch in Auckland blew the visitors away.
On this occasion though the Irish kept their heads, as Sexton kicked them back to an eight-point lead before the fly-half’s next long-range penalty came back off the crossbar.
Then came the score of the game through Will Jordan, who collected Savea’s inside ball on his own 22 and spotted a channel to burn past Sexton and slide across the line.
The momentum was with New Zealand, and the next score would likely decide the game. Ireland put trust in the accuracy of their set-piece and were rewarded as Herring broke off the back of the maul and finished superbly to extend the advantage to 10.
As the seconds ticked away and it became apparent Ireland were going to win, scenes of jubilation began on the visitors’ bench with the totemic Peter O’Mahony overcome by emotion at the magnitude of what his side had accomplished.
New Zealand: J Barrett; Reece, R Ioane, Havili, Jordan; B Barrett, Smith; Bower, Taylor, Laulala, Retallick, Whitelock, A Ioane, Cane (capt), Savea.
Replacements: Coles, Tu’inukuafe, Tu’ungafasi, Vaa’i, Papalii, Fakatava, Mo’unga, Tuivasa-Sheck.
Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Henshaw, Aki, Lowe; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Beirne, Ryan, O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.
Replacements: Herring, Healy, Bealham, Treadwell, Conan, Murray, Carbery, Earls.