Ireland 33 New Zealand 24: As winger Malo Tuitama raced in for his second try to cut the gap to six points with as many minutes remaining, up on the press bench we started preparing another hard luck story for Irish rugby against New Zealand.
But while we may have been thinking that at the back of the stand at Manchester City Academy Stadium, the players out on the sodden pitch were working off a different script. They were writing history while we were contemplating past failures.
There was nothing lucky or gimmicky about this Irish win, the first by an Irish men’s national side against New Zealand — tipping the cap to Munster in ’78 and the women’s team at the World Cup two years ago.
This was a decisive, full-blooded win with an awesome Irish pack dismantling the world champions and the magnificent line-speed of the tackling finishing the job.
All three Irish tries came from forwards, all had their foundation in a dominant set-piece, Ireland prevailing at the lineout and scrum throughout and leaving the five-time champions on the cusp of elimination.
A win against Georgia on Wednesday now guarantees Ireland a semi-final spot for only the second time ever.
Ireland lost hooker Adam McBurney to the sin-bin after 18 minutes after he was adjudged to have knocked-on deliberately — New Zealand’s double try scorer Malo Tuitama escaped sanction for a similar offence when the game was in the melting pot in the second-half.
But this Irish team weren’t looking for excuses, they were looking for a result. They lost superb out-half Bill Johnston to injury just after half-time but his replacement, former Newcastle United FC academy player Johny McPhillips, was just as effective.
Johnston, who missed the Six Nations with a shoulder injury, dislocated his shoulder and his tournament is over. He will return home and be replaced by Brett Connon of Newcastle Falcons.
Throughout the field Ireland had heroes. Skipper James Ryan led a pack that pulverised New Zealand throughout and provided the platform for the historic success.
Ireland led 20-14 at the break thanks to a brace of tries off lineout moves with flanker Greg Jones getting over for the first after 28 minutes.
McBurney announced his return to the fray by peeling away from another driving maul and getting over in the left corner. Johnston landed the conversions from opposite wings in addition to a couple of early penalties.
Jordie Barrett and Shaun Stevenson supplied the early tries for the reigning world champions but they struggled throughout with Ireland’s line-speed in a clash played in a constant downpour.
McPhillips extended Ireland’s lead with a penalty from 40 metres and while Tuitama hit back with a try for New Zealand, Ireland continued to boss affairs.
No.8 Max Deegan got the clinching try nine minutes from time, again off a dominant scrum and while Tuitama’s second try ensured a nervous finish,
Ireland finished on the front foot and another scrum penalty saw McPhillips wrap up a famous win.
Scorers for Ireland:
G Jones, A McBurney, M Deegan tries; B Johnston 2, J McPhillips 2 pens; B Johnston 2, J McPhillips cons. New Zealand: J Barrett, S Stevenson, M Tuitama 2 tries; J Barrett 2 cons.
J Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins / Ulster); M Byrne (Terenure / Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con / Munster), C O’Brien (Clontarf / Leinster), H Keenan (UCD / Leinster); B Johnston (Garryowen/Munster), S Kerins (Sligo/ Connacht); A Porter (UCD / Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena / Ulster), B Betts (Young Munster / Munster); C Gallagher (Sligo / Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne / Leinster); G Jones (UCD / Leinster), D Aspil (St Mary’s RFC / Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne / Leinster).
V O’Brien (Cork Con / Munster) for Aspil (20), J O’Brien (UCD / Leinster) for C O’Brien (27), Aspil for V O’Brien (30), C O’Brien for J O’Brien (34), J McPhillips (Queen’s University / Ulster) for Johnston (37), V O’Brien for McBurney (63), V Abdaladze (Clontarf / Leinster) for Betts (63) K Brown (Shannon / Munster) for Aspil (64), S O’Connor (Cashel / Munster) for Gallagher (77).
J Trainor; S Stevenson, P Tomkinson, J Barrett, M Tuitama; S Perofeta, S Nock; A Johnstone, L Apisai, S Kautai; Q Strange, I Walker-Leawere; L Jacobson, M Jacobson, M Mikaele-Tu’u.
TJ Va’a for Perofeta (43), J Lowe for Tomkinson (51), A Aumua for Apisai (59), A Fidow for Kautai (59), S Paranihi for Johnstone (67), H Dalzell for Walker-Leawere (70), J Taumateine for Nock (72).
Craig Maxwell-Keys (England).
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