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When the ears finally stopped ringing, the 3/1 betting slips were redeemed and the 50,000 or so fans left the arena – belatedly, after a roar that the victorious Irish players on a lap of honor – coach and captain sat side by side, trying to put an unexpected ass kick by the All Blacks into context.
A nine-point win over New Zealand is two points behind the first transatlantic triumph of 2016 but it cannot be hidden that Ireland could have won by double the lead if they had taken a plethora of close-range openings in the first half that were made on the back of relentlessly intense sustaining and suffocating defenses .
Every big decision – from moving Andrew Porter to free head props to putting together a back row with Caelan Doris and Ja From ck Conan to supporting James Lowe and Andrew Conway amid a host of alternatives – this battle for position at the forefront of the sport was absolutely confirmed in a day that further divided the peloton.
We’ve been before here – around 2018 – where a victory over the Men in Black seemed to open up endless possibilities for the Irish team.
On that occasion it turned out to be the climax just before the most successful era Irish rugby has ever seen, was unveiled at an amazing pace.
How can it be any different this time? How can the players and coaches ensure that the euphoria over this emphatic victory in New Zealand in the three test series next summer and in France at the 2023 World Cup is exceeded again?
These are questions that Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell have answers this time.
« This is the beginning of a two year journey and it is important that we keep improving. There is definitely room for individual improvement and you can see quite a bit in the first half when it comes to that to take our chances. «
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« We could have made a few tries in the first half. We have to keep our feet on the ground and keep improving. »
« This is just the beginning and we have to keep building. The thing with the victory over New Zealand – it gives the country a boost, but you don’t get a trophy. «
The last sentence contains the key. Those three victories over New Zealand left indelible memories with players, coaches and fans, but in the end there was nothing tangible other than souvenir DVDs.
That is not to say that the intangible self-confidence boost from the world’s number one throttling Group can’t push to a higher level as they’re trying to finally make their mark in a World Cup in a meaningful way.
« We’ve now won seven on the go and we believe we can get good results if we can doing our best, « added Sexton. “That belief is there now.”
For Andy Farrell, he can say he climbed rugby’s curviest mountain five times after helping kill the All Blacks four times as an assistant coach before joining today as Captain triumphed.
It was a remarkable turnaround for a project that was crying out for a spark in the middle of the Six Nations last spring.
To sum up his fifth win over New Zealand, Farrell chose a language that spoke remembers his rugby league style of play – clearly.
« We did what we promised. We trusted ourselves to play the way we wanted to play – that will be it shortly, » he said.
In view of the impressive 21-point performance in the second half, you could almost – almost – forget that the game threatened to slip after all the slaughtered chances at the break.
A term that came after the failure of the World Cup Thrown around in 2019 was that Ir land suffered from « performance anxiety » on the big stage.
Sexton was firmly convinced that the lightning attack in the third quarter, which brought Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris to attempts, came directly from the work of the team, for every mental deficiency to fix.
« We weren’t clinical in the first half, but fair play. This team has worked a hell of a lot on the mental side of the game and coming back is a testament to the management and the players, « said Sexton.
» In the past we would have said: ‘We didn’t take our chances’ and the heads lowered a bit, but today we got our reward. «
When Andy Farrell kept his emotions under wraps, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster was more exuberant in his breakdown of the downfall of his team.
Foster was like Farrell on assisted Ireland’s previous victories against the All Blacks, and on his front row he rates today’s performance as the best he has seen in the men in green.
« Ireland is playing a game with a very high level Retention. They like to hold onto the ball and put pressure on the system and we saw that again tonight, but there is certainly the ambition to play a little more ambition so it’s a bit broader in the way they play some of the Phased things and how they counterattack.
« Don’t get me wrong, I think that was a very good performance and probably the best performance I’ve seen in my time. »
There were other tidbits after the game, such as Sexton, who responded to New Zealand whore Dane Coles’ claim that the Irish skipper is a “mouth-watering c ****”. “He has a lot to say all the time, and I don’t mind « was the answer.
The Irish semi-finalist also paid tribute to second cast partner Joey Carbery, who nailed a couple of clutch bumps off the bench to seal the game.
But the final word came from Farrell as he came over the most successful day of his head coach -Career thought and, he hopes, not just a career highlight, but something special on the way.
« The test for us in recent years has been the consistency of performance, » he said.
« I said last week that to beat her you have to be at your best and a bit of luck – but I don’t think we needed that luck because we were at our best today. »
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