THE TANNOY SPEAKERS were turned down, the intensity ratcheted up and the crowd were back to their old selves.
This was what November internationals are supposed to feel like.
That it ended with such disappointment and a tinge of injustice even felt acceptable. At least rugby fans could stream away from the Aviva Stadium having watched an ferocious, confident display that they could be proud of.
Ireland raced out of the traps like we all hoped they would. This proud squad had had enough of being told they were passive against Australia. Enough of hearing about the inevitable 14th win from 14 New Zealand would enjoy over the southern hemisphere summer. Too used to winning to accept the fate of all but one Ireland team to face the mighty All Blacks in the past 98 years.
This was Ireland in full on underdog mode and, jesus, how they revelled in it.
Ireland were so good in that first half, you were left wondering if this was all part of Joe Schmidt’s great masterplan; use Australia to take up a spot in the long grass, prepare the ambush. It almost worked.
Devin Toner played out of his skin, Mike Ross found space to carry and the great Richie McCaw was flung aside like a rag doll. These underdogs brimming with self belief. And, as Steve Hansen pointed out as he sat relieved and proud in the post-match press conference, that is an ingredient which has been lacking over the years.
“I don’t want people to say we were off the pace,” Hansen said, ” we trained well all week. but Ireland forced us into those errors.”
It is difficult to recall an Ireland performance on a par with this one. Australia in 2011? England in 2004? These are perhaps arguments to be made when the dust settles, but today, Joe Schmidt John Plumtree and Les Kiss sent a pack out to bully the biggest baddest set of forwards in the game and they achieved.
In the end, perhaps Ireland found some of the white line fever that has prevented New Zealand from total domination over the past 25 years. They were forced to soak up endless pressure after taking a 15-point lead into the second half. Carry by carry, the visitors asked our tacklers to dig deeper and deeper.
They continued to go to the well and even forced a shot at goal that would have opened up an eight-point lead which even the belief-filled McCaw admitted would have meant the end of their comeback hopes.
Come back they did though, a typically brave move from left to right which ended with Ryan Crotty sneaking into the corner.
“The defence at the end is massively disappointing, but it’s cumulative. We were asked to make a lot of tackles,” said a pretty downcast Schmidt deep in the heart of the stadium.
When the speakers are turned off and the heart rate has finally slowed down, the result remains the same, but an enormous amount of progress has been displayed in this showing from Ireland.
The challenge now is ensuring the same levels are hit over and over again when New Zealand are not the ones laying the gauntlet down.