'We had to go out and attack them' - How Ireland made history against the All Blacks in Chicago

Joe Schmidt’s side faced down the haka at Soldier Field in 2016.

SOME MOMENTS DESERVE to be immortalised.

Volkswagen have come on board as partners of The42, which will see them sponsor all of our rugby coverage for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

Ahead of the tournament, ‘Onward’ — an eight-part series — will be looking back at the unforgettable days from Joe Schmidt’s time in charge as he aims to end his six-year spell on a high.

Today, Ciaran Kennedy takes us through Ireland’s first-ever Test win over the All Blacks in Chicago. 

ireland-team-face-the-haka-in-a-shape-of-eight-in-memory-of-anthony-foley-of-munster INPHO / Billy Stickland The Irish starting 15 remember Anthony Foley as they face the haka. INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

ONLY THE MOST notable scorelines manage to embed themselves into memory. 40-29? Any Irish rugby supporter knows which game we are talking about. Most can tell you where they were.

Despite being on the other side of the world, no team had brought Irish rugby as much pain and misery as New Zealand.

Whenever Irish teams were starting to feel good about themselves, the All Blacks were always on hand to serve up a reality check.

In their opening Pool A game at the 1995 World Cup, they hammered Ireland 43-19. There was a 63-15 defeat at Lansdowne Road two years later. In 2002, a two-Test tour in New Zealand ended with a 55-14 aggregate defeat. It was 45-7 at Lansdowne in 2005, 66-28 in New Plymouth in 2010. The less said about the three Test tour in 2012 and that disastrous 60-0 whitewash in New Plymouth, the better.

And that’s only the games in recent memory.

Plenty of Ireland head coaches had had a crack at the All Blacks. All had failed.

Yet none had come closer than Joe Schmidt, who was only a handful of games into the job when New Zealand came to Dublin in 2013. Ireland were moments away from finally beating the All Blacks that night, only for the visitors to swoop for a stoppage time try to level the game, with Ryan Crotty converting at the second attempt to snatch victory from Ireland’s hands.

mick-kearney-and-brian-odriscoll-watch-as-all-blacks-score-a-try-through-ryan-crotty-in-the-last-minute Billy Stickland / INPHO Ireland team manager Mick Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll watch as the All Blacks' Ryan Crotty scores a crucial late try in Dublin in 2013. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

While it had been the closest encounter between the sides, and therefore should have been the most encouraging from an Irish point of view, in many ways it was also the most typically New Zealand win of the lot.

Ireland, and Schmidt, had to wait three long years to get another shot at the back-to-back world champions.

This time, the battle was set for neutral territory, with the two sides meeting in Chicago’s Soldier Field, home to NFL side the Chicago Bears. By that stage, New Zealand’s winning record against Ireland had stretched to 22 games.

Yet in the three years since their last meeting, Schmidt had shaped Ireland into a totally different side. The disappointment of the 2015 World Cup was the only real blemish in an otherwise superb spell that had delivered two Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, and a first win on South African soil.

This time, the squad were heading into a game against New Zealand expecting a result.

Jared Payne, who played the full 80 minutes that day, remembers how Schmidt had encouraged his players to go out and play ambitious rugby.

“We had to go out and attack them, we had to go out and try and beat them,” Payne says. “We’re not going to go out and beat them by containing them or anything like that. We had to go out attack them and take our game to them, not just wait for them to come to us and then hope for the best.”

That was exactly what Ireland did across an epic nine-try thriller.

Ireland had stormed into a 25-8 lead by half-time thanks to tries from Jordi Murphy, CJ Sander and Conor Murray. Simon Zebo crossed to make it 30-8 shortly after the restart, but the All Blacks slowly began to claw the deficit back with tries from TJ Perenara, Ben Smith and Scott Barrett.

Having led by 22 points, Ireland were clinging onto a three-point lead as the game entered the final five minutes.

conor-murray-celebrates-robbie-henshaws-try INPHO / Billy Stickland Ireland's Conor Murray celebrates Robbie Henshaw's try. INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

New Zealand were pressing when a loose pass, following a huge tackle by Andrew Trimble on Liam Squire, kick-started the key moment. From the resulting scrum, Conor Murray flung the ball out to Joey Carbery. Carbery, who was winning his first cap, fed Payne, who in turn moved the ball out to Zebo. The Munster man went for the chip, with the resulting chase putting huge pressure on the All Blacks deep into their own territory, Murray covering a huge amount of ground to force Julian Savea out of play.

Ireland produced another superb play from the five-metre scrum, a reverse pass from Jamie Heaslip allowing Robbie Henshaw to race over and put the result beyond doubt.

“We had a lot of momentum heading into the last 15-20 minutes, which is huge against the All Blacks. If you’re sucking diesel (at that stage) against them you’re going to lose more often than you’re going to win,” Payne explains.

“I remember just before Robbie scored that try, we were near our own 30-40 metre line.

“We were deciding as a group what we were going to do, whether we were going to try and just exit or have a bit of a crack, and we thought, bugger it. They had had one or two changes in their backline, and we knew we had to play against them, so we thought we would go for the width and see where we end up. That led to Zeebs flinging a good kick, and it felt like a big moment in the game for us.

“We could have decided to exit, potentially let New Zealand come at us a little bit, but we chose to back what we had been saying during the week and we were lucky enough to get a good result from it.

“That was a big moment for us.”

Ireland had gone for the ambitious option, and it had paid off. Carbery kicked the conversion and Ireland contained the All Blacks’ attempted comeback in the final five minutes. After 11 years and 29 unsuccessful attempts, Ireland had finally done it. Ireland 40, New Zealand 29. No team had put 40 points on New Zealand since South Africa in 2004. 

the-ireland-team-and-management-celebrate-winning Dan Sheridan / INPHO The Irish team celebrate a famous win in the Windy City. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The final score clearly rattled Steve Hansen’s men. That much was evident in the violently physical rematch in Dublin later that month.

Despite losing that second encounter, the 2016 November series had been a landmark moment for Ireland. They now knew that they could beat anybody. Suddenly, expectations jumped between players and supporters alike.

“You can always talk about being confident, but if you haven’t beaten a team then there is always that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind, no matter what you say to yourself,” Payne says. 

“It was massive to get a monkey off a lot of people’s backs, and it gives you that belief when you have physically got something to remember doing. You don’t have to mentally make it up in your mind, saying we’ve never done this, but can we? Now you know you can. So it was a massive moment.”

Volkswagen have been proud sponsors of Irish Rugby since 2011, and they are also rugby partners of The42 during the 2019 World Cup. For more, visit volkswagen.ie/rugby  

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