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Saturday 10 December 2016

Incredibles finally see off invincibles

Ireland finally lay All Black hoodoo at 29th attempt

Rob Kearney (left) and Jamie Heaslip celebrate a historic victory over New Zealand at Soldier
Field in Chicago Picture: Sportsfile
Rob Kearney (left) and Jamie Heaslip celebrate a historic victory over New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago Picture: Sportsfile
Devin Toner, Robbie Henshaw and Donnacha Ryan celebrate victory

You had to fear the worst when the man in the black suit belted out the New Zealand national anthem with indecent fervour.

There followed an out-of-tune rendition of Ireland's Call - on the fiddle - from another more sinister man in black.

The players, the predominantly Irish crowd and the thousands watching around the world were denied the passionate plea of a proper call to arms.

Ireland couldn't even get a fair shake when it came to the singing. There was an ominous sense of something hideous about to go down in Chicago.

Oh, we of little faith. When the Haka took place, the Irish turned not to bravado, but to a fallen friend.

The figure of eight in honour of Anthony Foley was the first sign that something special was on the ground and in the air.

"It was something that we talked about through the management to the players," said captain Rory Best.

"I think a lot has been made of the really sad news that Munster got a few weeks ago and this was the national team's first time together since his passing.

"We felt that it was the right thing to do and then to put the Munster boys at the front of that, for them to lead that number eight.

"It was our way, as an Irish national team, to show a mark of respect to Axel and his family."

Formula

The Irish found the secret formula to be able to nail down their detail in the last month and allow the emotion seep in to fuel their drive and energy.

"We had not as much time as we're used to together, but we were prepared," said Best.

"We put a lot of pressure on to do as much homework off the pitch because we didn't have as much time on it.

"Obviously, there was a lot of emotion and I'm sure some of the Munster boys got a bit from that.

"It was just an emotionally-charged day from us because we knew we had a great opportunity.

"Ultimately, we did a lot of our work during the week to make sure that was banked, so we could draw on that emotion."

How embarrassed the diffident Foley would have been about the tribute.

How proud he would have been about what happened thereafter.

"For me personally and (Conor) Murray and all the Munster boys standing there it was big," said CJ Stander.

"He meant a lot to me and was really the rock in my rugby in the last four years. He pushed me to the next level.

"I just think of what a man he was, the legend he was, what he gave to me as a rugby player."

When the All Blacks were coming back hard, Stander hit the wall and looked for the power within and without.

"In that 60th minute when I got tired, I was just thinking: why am I playing this match? Who got me there? Everything he gave to me."

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen took the chastening experience on his chin.

This may have something to do with the fact that the nations will renew their rivalry at The Aviva Stadium in less than two weeks.

"The right side won," he said.

He was handed the opening to turn to the loss of his three best second rows, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano, as the reason for the lineout implosion.

"We're not going to make any excuses about not having the right people," he reacted.

"It had taken 82 minutes to beat them last time.

"The All Blacks knew they were good and when two good sides meet each other, the results sometimes turns out like it did."

Perhaps Ireland's experienced Rob Kearney, who returned Schmidt's trust, captured the mood best.

"It's awesome for the Irish, not just for this team, but for the 28 teams that have gone before this.

"We've been waiting a long time to beat the All Blacks," he said.

"It's such a difficult feat. But we gave everything and I think we deserved it.

"After what the Cubs did during the week, I think there was something in the air in Chicago."

Too true.

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