Ireland made history in the Aviva Stadium last night with their first win over the All Blacks on Irish soil.
And Joe Schmidt’s men sent a message to the rugby world, just months out from next year’s World Cup in Japan.
The All Blacks had averaged 5.5 tries per game this year and scored almost 40 points per match.
But Ireland kept them try-less and limited Steve Hansen’s team to nine points on a night where every player in green stood up.
The seven-point win was Ireland’s 11th home victory in a row and Schmidt’s team have now won 17 of their last 18 tests, seeing off all of their potential World Cup opponents on that run.
Ireland came into November with most first-choice stars available — apart from Conor Murray, the northern hemisphere’s top try scorer against the All Blacks — but by the time kick-off came around, Schmidt had to plan with much of his firepower in the stands.
Sean O’Brien, who scored against New Zealand for the Lions, broke his arm against Argentina and Robbie Henshaw — who touched down in that 40-29 victory over the All Blacks in Chicago — suffered a hamstring strain last week.
Dan Leavy was added to the walking wounded on Friday and had to be replaced in the starting XV by Josh van der Flier, while Jordi Murphy — who also scored in the Windy City back in 2016 — was added to the bench.
The game kicked off with New Zealand testing Ireland in the air, as Beauden Barrett and Damien McKenzie turned the green shirts with four chips in behind, one forcing Rob Kearney to carry across the whitewash.
Yet from the resulting lineout, Van der Flier and CJ Stander combined to earn a huge turnover, with the Munster man roaring his approval right after.
The hosts were up for this and there was no surprise when they opened the scoring just 11 minutes in.
Brodie Retallick slapped Kieran Marmion’s arm at the ruck and Johnny Sexton slotted home the first of three opening-half penalties.
The hits kept coming with Devin Toner and James Ryan pounding Retallick backward as the Kiwis attempted to get into the Ireland 22, but a green shirt picked up the spilled ball and flipped the attack.
Ireland were totally in control at this point and they powered toward the New Zealand line with relentless determination.
Jacob Stockdale made a big carry to take his team into the All Blacks’ 22 but a fumble by Rory Best turned over possession once more.
Ben Smith kicked into space and though Stockdale recovered, Kearney went off his feet at the ruck and a penalty was awarded.
Perhaps admitting that the Kiwis knew they were up against a serious opponent, Barrett pointed to the posts and the sides were level at 3-3.
Still on the back foot, the All Blacks began to play on — or over — the edge.
Liam Squire draped himself around CJ Stander’s neck as the Ireland No 8 broke the line, raising the volume of an already-vocal home crowd.
A few minutes later Sam Whitelock appeared to deliberately knock the ball out of an Irish hand — with the hosts inside the Kiwi 22 — but there was no sign of any cards being shown by referee Wayne Barnes.
Stander went over from the resulting lineout — Ireland’s set-piece was working like a fine-tuned machine — but the flanker was held up by the desperate New Zealand defence.
Another cheer went up for a try moments later when Kearney touched down but Barnes went to the TMO for help.
The big screen showed Sexton’s chip — with advantage in hand — was fumbled by Jack Goodhue but the ball was knocked on by the Leinster man, much to the crowd’s disappointment.
Sexton sent over the penalty that was lying in wait but the All Blacks took just two minutes to level the game.
This time, Barrett slotted over a drop-goal — his second in two weeks and the second of his Test career.
But the out-half smiled wryly after landing the kick as the All Blacks were playing with an advantage and might have punished Ireland for more than three points.
Ireland remained on the front foot as the half drew to a close and after their scrum monstered the visitors, Sexton kicked to the corner for another lineout attack.
With two minutes to go you sensed that Schmidt’s men needed a try but despite New Zealand coughing up another penalty, they left with only three points.
Sexton made it 9-6 before the interval as Barnes warned the visitors — but failed to flash a yellow card.
The second half began with a bang and quite how Kieran Read did not set up a try-scoring attack is a mystery.
Stockdale attempted to counter from a Barrett kick but his chip was blocked down by the Kiwi skipper, who fumbled the ball with Goodhue beside him ready to race home unopposed.
You would think the Ulster winger might be put off by such a potential calamity.
But the fearless 22-year-old chipped over Retallick two minutes later, with momentum carrying him over the line despite Aaron Smith’s tackle.
Stockdale’s magnificent try lifted the roof off the Aviva before Sexton added the conversion.
Garry Ringrose had the crowd standing again moments later with a chip in behind the Kiwi defence. But while Ireland won a lineout in a dangerous position, the set-piece malfunctioned for the first time.
Kearney was fortunate to avoid a yellow card after an aerial collision with Rieko Ioane but the teams remained at 15 a side as the final quarter approached.
New Zealand threw off the shackles as the clock ticked down but heroic defending by Peter O’Mahony and Van der Flier kept Ireland ten points ahead until the 68th minute, when Barrett kicked his second penalty of the day.
New Zealand tried to attack from deep but Stockdale and Sexton bundled Smith into touch, only for Retallick to steal Ireland’s throw.
The black wave continued to push forward but the green wall held firm.
A Retallick knock-on as the Kiwis reached phase 15 of their final attack ended the tie — and rocked the foundations of Dublin.
SCORERS — Ireland: try, Stockdale. con, Sexton; pens, Sexton 3. New Zealand: pens, Barrett 2; drop-goal, Barrett.
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