'The best atmosphere in my 30 years going to Lansdowne Road' - When Ireland beat the All Blacks on home soil

A highly-anticipated meeting between the nations ranked first and second in the world, Ireland produced a near-perfect performance to overcome New Zealand.

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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.

In the final piece, Ciaran Kennedy remembers the historic win over New Zealand in Dublin, while former Ireland hooker Shane Byrne, ex-Leinster fly-half Andy Dunne and Virgin Media rugby commentator Dave McIntyre share their experiences of an unforgettable day. 

andrew-porter-jonathan-sexton-tadhg-furlong-and-james-ryan-celebrate-winning Billy Stickland / INPHO Andrew Porter, Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan salute the crowd after their victory. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It was an opportunity to turn a brilliant year into the most successful season of Ireland’s history. There is always huge excitement when New Zealand come to town, but this time it felt different.

This time, there was genuine confidence that Joe Schmidt’s team could win, and become the first Irish team to beat New Zealand in Ireland after 113 years of trying. For many supporters, this was the greatest Irish team they had ever seen. Over the previous 12 months, they had claimed only a third-ever Grand Slam in stunning fashion.

They carried that fine form into the summer, where they won a first Test Series in Australia since 1979. The visit of New Zealand to Dublin that November provided the perfect end to a special campaign. It was widely accepted that the Aviva Stadium fixture on 17 November was a meeting between the two best teams in the world. The chance to make history only added to the intrigue.

the-two-teams-come-out-to-start-the-game Tommy Dickson / INPHO Fireworks go off before kick-off at the Aviva Stadium. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

It had been two years since Ireland claimed their first, and only, win against New Zealand. However, that memorable 40-29 win in Chicago came with a footnote. New Zealand had been missing some key men in Soldier Field, with injured second row pair Sam Whitleock and Brodie Retallick both absent.

Two weeks later a wounded and reinforced New Zealand side came to Dublin and laid down a marker by winning an intensely physical rematch. The 2018 meeting was their first clash since. Ireland’s only major concern heading into the game was the fitness of Conor Murray, who missed the opening half of the season with a neck problem.

In his absence, Kieran Marmion was handed the number nine shirt. It was a typically tense and tight opening half, with Ireland moving into a 9-6 lead thanks to a trio of penalties from Johnny Sexton.

johnny-sexton-kicks-a-penalty Tommy Dickson / INPHO Sexton kicks a penalty. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The game’s only try arrived early in the second half, and the scorer came as no surprise. Jacob Stockdale had quickly become a man for the big stage. In that year’s Six Nations, the Ulster wing had scored a record seven tries across the five outings.

As such, he was well policed for the most part by Steve Hansen’s side. Yet after the restart Stockdale stepped into the spotlight. From a well worked lineout, the ball came to Johnny Sexton, who played a beautiful reverse pass to Bundee Aki.

The centre fired the ball out to Stockdale on the left flank. With little room to manoeuvre, Stockdale chipped the ball over the New Zealand defence and raced through the pile of black jerseys. Aaron Smith followed in pursuit, but the ball bounced beautifully for Stockdale, who collected and dived over the line with Smith clinging on to his legs.

ireland-players-celebrate-jacob-stockdale-scoring-a-try Bryan Keane / INPHO Stockdale scoring the only try of the game, as Ireland replacements jump for joy. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

It was a textbook Schmidt play that had completely scrambled the visitors. Stockdale’s contribution was even more impressive given that just minutes earlier, he had another chip charged down by Kieran Read in far more dangerous territory.

“The first chip was maybe not the best decision I’ve made on a rugby pitch. The second one was a bit better,” said Stockdale, reflecting on the 12th try of his young 14-Test career.

“It was an incredible feeling. I can’t take too much of the credit, that was a training ground move and it paid out massively. The lineout worked superbly, Bundee gave me a great pass, I didn’t have to go reach for it, and those are the situations that you want to be in as a winger, 24/7.”

Sexton added the extras and the New Zealand pressure intensified. Across the remaining half an hour, Ireland’s defence was rock solid. Peter O’Mahony was at his inspirational best before limping off, including a game-saving intercept to deny a certain Ben Smith try. Alongside him CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier were also exceptional, while James Ryan continued to defy his relative lack of experience with a phenomenal 80 minutes.

There was also big performances from Devin Toner and Rory Best, two players who had had their form questioned in the weeks and months leading up to the game, while defence coach Andy Farrell’s importance was underlined by the fact that the All Blacks were held tryless for only the second time since 1995. He was also involved in the other occasion, during the Lions’ tour of New Zealand the previous year. It all boiled to down a raucous ending as The Fields of Athenry echoed around the stadium.

“The last two minutes I couldn’t use any defensive calls, because nobody could hear me,” said Stockdale. “It made the defence a wee bit tougher.”

Steve Hansen, the New Zealand head coach, was gracious in defeat and full of praise for the hosts. “What it does do is this: I said this at the beginning of the week that these are the two best sides in the world playing each other,” he said.

“So as of now they are the number one team in the world.” It was a comment that Schmidt took with a pinch of salt. Still, no-one could argue against the fact that Ireland had now reached a new level under Schmidt, and despite all the success experienced during his tenure, this was the result that saw Ireland talked up as favourites for the World Cup.

andrew-porter-james-ryan-bundee-aki-iain-henderson-and-sean-cronin-jacob-stockdale-and-joey-carbery-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Tommy Dickson / INPHO The Irish players celebrate at the final whistle. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“They’re not the number one team in the world for nothing,” added O’Mahony, who received a standing ovation when substituted.

“We probably had to play our best game of this term and thankfully we managed to do that. It’s a big piece of history and one that we wanted to tick off here in Ireland and now we have done it.” A special night, and a special team.

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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