Ireland stun the All Blacks to become just the fifth touring side to win series in New Zealand

All Blacks suffer back-to-back home defeats for first time since 1998 in the deciding Test of their three-match series in Wellington.

Image: Photosport/Elias Rodriguez/INPHO



WELLINGTON BELONGS TO Ireland tonight. The New Zealand capital has fallen, and so has the aura surrounding the All Blacks. Once upon a time they dominated this fixture in the way a bully controls the schoolyard. Not anymore.

In one of the most thrilling contests this city has seen in years, Ireland had a scarcely believable lead at half-time, were subjected to an inevitable onslaught in the third quarter, and then produced a stunning defensive effort in the final 20 minutes to become just the fifth team to defeat the All Blacks down here in a Test series and the first to do so in the professional era.

Heroes were everywhere. Yet again captain Johnny Sexton delivered, Robbie Henshaw was immense, so too James Ryan, but no one but no one deserved this win more than Tadhg Beirne, the Ireland lock, whose hat-trick of turnovers in the final 10 minutes stopped the All Blacks’ momentum.

For them, an inquisition will follow. Their public is used to seeing their team win, especially against teams like Ireland, but after 111 years of one-sided results, the tide has turned in the last six years. It is five wins out of eight for Ireland against them now. Any more of this carry-on and the All Blacks might be reduced to the status of Ireland’s bogey team.

Right from the off, the crowd of 38,000 were treated to an Irish display filled with attacking intent, just one minute on the clock when Caelan Doris made a break in midfield, Beauden Barrett eventually called upon to stop a certain try off the following phase when he intercepted Peter O’Mahony’s attempted pass to James Lowe.

A key moment? No, that would arrive just a few minutes later as Sam Cane was penalised for a tackling Josh van der Flier off the ball, captain Johnny Sexton choosing to kick to the corner rather than at the posts, a decision that was vindicated within seconds as James Ryan gathered Dan Sheehan’s throw, forming a maul that moved five yards or so to the All Blacks line before van der Flier touched down. Five minutes gone; five points on the board.

And all of a sudden all those pre-match doubts about Sam Whitelock’s return, the All Blacks’ ability to plot successful revenge missions, had disappeared. Ireland were in control of their destiny, their scrum holding strong, their backrow absolutely bossing the breakdown, reinforcing the belief that Sam Cane is indeed a, cough, poor man’s Richie McCaw.

There was more. The All Blacks’ lineout was a disaster zone in that first half, Tadhg Beirne leaping into the Wellington sky to steal Codie Taylor’s first throw, James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony bringing their own chaos to proceedings, as they lost four of their own lineouts in that opening half.

Why stop there? A key feature of the opening half was the contrast in skills between the Irish front row and their New Zealand counterparts; the hosts unable to even catch Covid, the visitors producing a rat-a-tat-tat sequence of passes that contributed hugely to Ireland’s second and third tries.

We’ll come back to those in a moment but before we get that far, there were a couple of key moments: first Jordie Barrett’s missed penalty from 40 yards on seven minutes, then his successful shot 16 minutes later for the only All Blacks score of the half.

They were rattled. Ardie Savea may have punched a few holes in the Irish defence but beyond that, there was precious little invention, whereas Ireland were beginning to find a rhythm and flow, and by the 29th minute, they were finding their way into the All Blacks 22 after a brilliant starter play saw Sexton, Bundee Aki, Tadhg Furlong and James Lowe move the ball sharply from wing to wing.

Patience was the key. Even when the All Blacks flirted with the offside line, Ireland retained their composure as well as the ball, before executing a half-chance with utter ruthlessness: Mack Hansen spinning one wicked pass right to Lowe, Lowe then delivering a no-look pass inside, Hugo Keenan arriving at the appropriate moment to finish off the chance. Sexton converted and it was 12-3.  

Two minutes later it was 15-3, Sexton landing a huge kick from 45 yards and the question then centred on whether they could retain that advantage until half-time. They did all that and more, Ryan stealing another throw from Taylor, Ireland countering.

Suddenly they had the play in the All Blacks’ 22 and were winning a scrum when Jordie Barrett knocked on. Seconds later they were scoring try number three, a rehearsed move seeing them attack down the right-hand side off that scrum before the play swept back left, Dan Sheehan with a sharp pass back to Sexton who in turn delivered to Aki on the charge.

Henshaw – the tryscoring hero of Chicago six years ago – timed his supporting run perfectly to then collect Aki’s pass and score. Sexton’s conversion made it 22-3 and you wondered if things could get any better.

Eventually we’d get a yes to that answer.

But first there was worry.

Everything the All Blacks got wrong in that first half, their lineout, their passivity in the carry, they quickly corrected. The upshot was they got the crowd onside too, chants of ‘All Blacks, All Blacks’ coming down from the stands.

It had a rousing effect. They were absolutely brilliant in the opening ten minutes of the second half, deservedly scoring via Ardie Savea on 43 minutes – the number eight being heavily involved in the build-up as the play moved deep into the Ireland 22. From ten metres out, Savea bombed across; Jordie Barrett converted, the scoreboard adjusted to read New Zealand 10-22 Ireland.

The scoreboard operators were working overtime. Within a minute of Andrew Porter getting yellow carded for a high tackle on Brodie Retallick, they were scoring try number two, Akira Ioane with this one when he powered past Dan Sheehan and stepped inside Furlong and Hansen to make it 22-17.

Cane’s concession of a breakdown penalty on 56 minutes helped stall their momentum, Sexton scoring to make it an eight-point game but by the time the clock ticked onto the hour mark, the score was back to 25-22 after Savea delivered a dummy on his own 22, slipping a pass inside to Will Jordan who sprinted from there beyond Sexton and to the right corner.

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Barrett, however, missed the conversion, yet with 20 minutes remaining and the All Blacks on a roll, you fancied them, at this juncture, to finish the job.

johnny-sexton-kicks-a-conversion Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

They hadn’t calculated for another Irish try off a maul, though, O’Mahony with the catch, Herring with the smarts to know when to break off the maul and head for the line. He touched down, Sexton kicked the conversion, and all of a sudden there were 10 points between them as we headed for the final 10 minutes.

That was when Beirne produced turnover after turnover after turnover, all three inside the Irish 22 when the pressure was at its height. In the context of the game, those moments were as good as a score. They were even able to survive Sexton hitting the bar with a penalty.

Trust us, there will be a lot of thirsty Irish fans hitting the bar in Wellington tonight.

New Zealand scorers

Tries: Savea, A Ioane, Jordan

Conversions: J Barrett (2/3)

Penalties: J Barrett (1/2)

Ireland scorers

Tries: Van der Flier, Keenan, Henshaw, Herring

Conversions: Sexton (3/4)

Penalties: Sexton (1/2)

New Zealand

Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Sevu Reece (rep: Richie Mo’unga ’63); Beauden Barrett (rep: Richie Mo’unga ‘), Aaron Smith (rep: Folau Fakatava ’61); George Bower (rep: Karl Tu’inukuafe ’72), Codie Taylor (rep: Dane Coles ’62), Nepo Laulala (rep: Ofa Tu’ungafasi ‘), Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Akira Ioane, Sam Cane (rep: Dalton Papali’i 61) Ardie Savea. 

Replacements  Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tupou Vaa’i,  Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.


Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki (rep: Keith Earls ’68) James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (rep: Joey Carbery ’76), Jamison Gibson-Park (rep: Conor Murray ’71); Andrew Porter (yellow card, 50-60; rep: Cian Healy ’70), Dan Sheehan (rep: Rob Herring ’60), Tadhg Furlong (rep: Finlay Bealham ’70), Tadhg Beirne (rep: Kieran Treadwell ’76), James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier (rep: Healy ’54-60), Caelan Doris (rep: Jack Conan ’66). 

Referee W Barnes (RFU).

About the author:

Garry Doyle  / reports from Wellington

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