This was a very different kind of glory to Chicago.
No flurry of tries here. No blinking disbelief as the scoreboard rattled through numbers like a kid doing their multiplication tables. Just the one solitary touchdown amidst the brutality and belligerence of a game played by two sides determined to hold fast.
Soldier Field was exceptional. The first will always be the sweetest but how many of us could recall in an instant the identity of the five-try scorers that day? The sheer spread of them demands a moment’s pause. No-one will ever need that fraction of a second with this one.
The likelihood when TV folk look for a clip of this game for years to come is that they will reach instinctively for the frame in the 48th minute when Jacob Stockdale latched on to Bundee Aki’s pass, grubbed his kick and collected before crossing the Kiwi line.
For all the hits, it is this score that will define this game.
“I can’t take too much of the credit,” Stockdale said. “That was a training ground move and it paid off massively. The lineout worked superbly. Bundee gave me a great pass. I didn’t have to reach for it or anything. Those are the kind of situations that you want to be in, as a winger, 24/7.”
It was the honourable thing to say. Never mind that he still had acres of grass to cover when collecting the pass. Or the fact that he had to execute a sublime chip kick on the run while faced with an All Black wall.
Or that he had almost kicked Ireland into deep trouble just minutes earlier when another dinky tap from his boot failed to clear the clutches of Kieran Read who somehow fumbled the rebounding ball forward when clear in for a try of his own.
Put it that way and Stockdale’s immaculate execution shortly after was an ice-cold marvel. A ballsy offering from a 22-year old who seemed blind to the mayhem his moment of madness had almost caused in the biggest game this year.
“To be honest, that’s the message we get from the coaches, we play heads-up rugby. They give us that confidence to back ourselves.
“The first chip was maybe not the best decision I’ve made on a rugby pitch. The second one was a bit better.”
It’s not that he didn’t fear the consequences of his actions. His first thoughts when Read bent down to pick up that loose ball were stripped of any complications. ‘Drop it,’ was all that came to mind. And the All Black did.
He knows he got lucky but fortune had nothing to with the try. It was Stockdale’s 12th in just 14 tests but his first in five games stretching back 339 minutes to the defeat of England in Twickenham. An interminable drought by his standards.
Steve Hansen had spoken last week about the propensity for Ireland to hit teams with pre-planned moves. Tricks, he called them. This was, like all of them, brilliantly simple and yet just as intricate as the Lego sets Stockdale pieces together during his spare time.
Rory Best had to find Peter O’Mahony from the lineout. He did. Kieran Marmion had to be spot on with his feet to Sexton from the Munster jumper. He was. Bundee Ali needed to time his take and pass to Stockdale perfectly. He nailed it.
All that even before the Ulsterman got going.
“For me, it was just… I saw Ben Smith had come up on the edge to defend Bestie and I saw the space in behind. It was a slightly different kick, a longer kick, to chase on to. I was just playing in the moment. You can’t think about that kind of thing whenever you put a ball down.”
Smith backed up Stockdale’s account, confirming that the All Blacks had been “sort of manipulated a wee bit” in the manner in which he had been lured up the line from his deeper covering role on the wing by the presence of the Irish hooker.
“They worked that pretty well in the way they got into that part of the field and they all played their part to execute that try,” said Smith.
“It was well done and when they score a try like that you’ve just got to acknowledge the way they do that.”
It’s just the latest rub-of-the-eyes moment for Stockdale who was still a member of the Ulster academy this time two years ago when he watched so many of his current teammates claim that maiden win against the Kiwis in the States.
He must know that this sort of fairytale makes for great copy but there was little of the ‘aw shucks’ stuff when asked to put that into perspective.
In its place was a confidence and an ambition that symbolises everything good about this Irish team.
“It’s been an incredible road to where I’m at at the moment, at the same time it’s been an awful lot of hard work. There’s been an awful lot of lessons as well and that’s what it takes to progress, in international rugby and professional rugby in general.
“It’s been a massive year-and-a-half for me and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.”