1. Ireland’s licence to compete
The best Irish performances in recent years have invariably been down to aggressive defence. Our players thrive on being given the freedom to come off the defensive line with speed and Ireland excel when they compete ferociously at the breakdown too. Both of those aspects were present against the All Blacks.
The visitors seemed genuinely put out at Ireland’s competitiveness in every area of the game, particularly in the first half. In the closing stages the Irish effort did wilt and that allowed New Zealand to make the 60 metres or so they needed for the winning try. Still, this is the template Ireland’s defence should operate under from now on.
2. All Blacks accuracy under pressure
Ireland’s excellence managed to restrict the Kiwis in terms of the usual attacking genius they show, but the final passage of play was a prime example of what makes them the best team in the world. There was no panic, just steely determination to get the score they knew they were capable of.
The handling skills were sublime and there was pure patience in the build-up, before Dane Coles finally released Ryan Crotty to cross the whitewash. Rucks were cleared out with precision and the fitness Steve Hansen’s men showed was impressive. Ireland didn’t deserve to lose, but the passage of play summed up the All Blacks’ power, accuracy and belief.
3. Ireland’s players are good enough
Much of the frustration around Ireland’s form in the last three years was down to the fact that there are world class players in this country. Ireland has failed to be the sum of its parts far too often in recent seasons, but today we saw just how good Ireland can be when their players are used to best effect.
Sean O’Brien did damage with his explosive power, as did Cian Healy. The sight of the prop running over the top of Richie McCaw will stick in the memory, but actions like that need to become a more common occurrence. Gordon D’Arcy was magnificent, as was Rob Kearney. Joe Schmidt now needs to ensure this level of individual performance continues. When Ireland’s best players turn up, they are a match for any team in the world.
Rob Kearney shows his dejection after one of his best Ireland displays ever. ©INPHO/James Crombie.
4. An incredible Test match
The All Blacks Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in October has been lauded as the best game of the year repeatedly, but this thriller in Dublin had everything to offer. Smashing tackles, searing line-breaks, deft offloads and an ending nobody could have made up.
The sheer physicality of Ireland’s challenge allowed them to dominate the first half, but the All Blacks grew into the game and enjoyed a large majority of possession in the second 40. Both teams showed their strengths, and both demonstrated weaknesses too. For sheer drama, Dublin has never seen the likes. An unforgettable game.
5. The Aviva Stadium comes to life
This was the encounter Ireland needed to finally make this stadium their home. Never before has the re-built Lansdowne Road crackled with such excitement for the Irish rugby team. The atmosphere as Ireland strove in vain to close out the game was deafening.
The memory of this encounter will live on into 2014, and there will be a keen appetite to fill the Aviva for the Six Nations. Ireland fans showed that they need no encouragement from the PA system, but rather an injection of passion from the players themselves. Ireland didn’t win, but this was still a special game and the real beginning of the Joe Schmidt era.