It had been Ireland’s first face-to-face outing with the Haka in a Test series, and the record now stands at Ireland 1, New Zealand 0.
The Black Ferns were the strong favourites, with the Irish predicted to put in a gutsy showing before the southern hemisphere ladies were to stick to the script and pull away. But the script went out the window, and those writing it knew Philip Doyle’s side had the belief to win.
So too did their skipper, Fiona Coghlan.
“This win isn’t a shock to us. There was a lot of belief in the squad and all we spoke about for the last three days was beating New Zealand and how we were going to do it,” said the Leinster prop.
The team’s strength and conditioning coach, Marian Earls, had offered to shave her head if the troops won, but Coghlan convinced her otherwise, because she knew in her heart that the win was coming.
At half-time they’d trailed 7-8, having started strongly, dominating possession with some hugely impressive play by full-back Niamh Briggs.
But, possession wasn’t being converted and Kelly Brazier opened the scoring with a converted penalty in the 22nd minute, before Winiata got over in the left corner for a try (8-0).
Ireland regrouped and the cool heads of Lynne Cantwell, captain Coghlan, Grace Davitt and scrum-half Tania Rosser — who won her 50th cap against her native Kiwis — saw Heather O’Brien force her way over for a try under the posts on the 32 minute after 21 phases.
Briggs converted, keeping them within touching distance at half-time amid the stifling 27 degree heat.
“It was all very controlled in the dressing room at half-time and very to the point,” said Coghlan.
“We knew where we needed to attack as a team. There was no big motivating speech, just what we needed to do in order to win the game,” she said of Philip Doyle and Greg McWilliams’ half-time speech.
The introduction of Jenny Murphy saw her play like a woman possessed, injecting further belief into the Irish jerseys around her.
They dominated territory again, with superb scrummaging and massive hits by Cantwell — who won her 85th cap, in what was her first appearance against the All-Blacks in four World Cups.
Then came the vital score as Ashleigh Baxter, Rosser and Paula Fitzgerald held New Zealand out.
Briggs capitalised on a rare error from the champions and broke forward to feed winger Alison Miller, who used all her athletics knowledge to dash over the whitewash on the 58th minute.
Briggs slung over her second conversion of the day, 44 metres out on the left flank, and despite a penalty by Brazier to tie proceedings (14-14) with 15 minutes remaining, Briggs again kept her cool to plant her second penalty of the day on the 69 minute.
Despite what is the biggest win in the IRFU’s history however, Kazakhstan on Saturday (TG4, noon) is already the focus.
“We’re in recovery mood already with Skins on and ice baths had,” said Coghlan following the final whistle.
“We’re enjoying it but we’re thinking about the next game. It’s a huge win and it really blows the competition open but we’re not into any semi-final yet, and we’ve another step to take.”
New Zealand coach Brian Evans was frustrated but gracious in defeat.
He said: “We are very disappointed, but fair play to Ireland. They outmuscled us, they forced errors, but huge congratulations to them for that.
“Our mistake level was so high and we couldn’t execute our game-plan and our ball retention was bad, but we must stay positive. I have a lot of respect for the Irish team and coaches. They are top people.”
That they indeed are.
Scorers for Ireland: N Briggs (pen 1, con 2), H O’Brien (try) A Miller (try).
Scorers for New Zealand: K Brazier (pen 3), Selica (try).
IRELAND: FCoghkan (C), G Bourke, A Egan, S Spence, ML Reilly, P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O’Brien, T Rosser, N Stapleton, A Miller, G Davitt, L Cantwell, A Baxter, N Briggs.
Replacements: J Murphy for GDavitt (HT), S Fleming for Fitz (74), L Guest for O’Brien (76; inj).
NEW ZEALAND: K Wilton, F Fa’amausili (C), A Nelson, E Blackwell, J Patea, R Everitt, L Itunu, C Robertson, E Jensen, K Brazier, H Hireme, A Rule, H Manuel, R Wickliffe, S Winiata.
Replacements: Lavea for Patea and (52), McKay for Wilton (53), Richardson for Hireme (58).
Referee: L Berard (USA).