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Monkey off the back as the Irish beat the Blacks

(Conor Murray kicking during his Garryowen days)
Half time in Solider Field, Chicago:
Ireland 40, New Zealand 29:
IT left us breathless, it was gripping stuff but in the end of this Chicago epic encounter, Ireland fully deserved their first ever win over New Zealand in men’s full international rugby. This was a display that will be long remembered, a night when Irish rugby took a major step towards a claim as one of the best sides in the world.
Even allowing for some sloppy play from the New Zealanders which saw they struggle at their own lineout, particularly in the first half, guilty of a number of spills and playing second fiddle for long periods in the battle up front, Joe Schmidt’s side’s overall performance was text-book stuff.
Their game plan worked like a treat, the players were relaxed, focused and determined not to lose their substantial half time lead during that crucial last quarter of the game as they did in the Aviva Stadium in 2013.
To a man they played their hearts out, Munster players CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo, as well as Limerickman Seanie Cronin of Leinster, now part of Irish rugby folklore forever and joining the famous Munster achievement of 1978.
The last time these two teams met Ireland led the All Blacks by 19 points to 0. Tonight in Chicago, they lead them by 17 points, 25-8 and on their first half performance, they didn’t look like losing their advantage during the second half. It would have been an injustice if they had.
Ireland started well with Jonathon Sexton kicking a close-in penalty but New Zealand with a try from George Moala. Beauden Barrett missed the easy conversion.
The Irish dominated the rest of the half. Jordi Murphy got over for Ireland’s first try, converted by Sexton on 11 minutes to put the Irish 10-5 in front and seven minutes later it was 15-5 for the boys in green, CJ Stander using his strength to get over the whitewash after a great maul by the Irish pack. Barrett kicked a penalty for the Blacks to reduce the lead to 15-8 and it weas 18-8 at the end of the first quarter when Jonathan Sexton popped over with 22 minutes played.
Ireland had enjoyed 72% of the possession at that point but they lost Jordi Murphy with a leg injury. With New Zealand having terrible trouble at their lineout and out-mauled over the field, Ireland increased their lead to 25-8 when a trademark show and go by Conor Murray saw the Garryowen scrum-half slice through the Black’s defence for a brilliant try which Sexton again converted.
The second half started with Ireland defending and when they got their first sniff of the Blacks line, Murray fed Sexton and Simon Zebo slipped over close to the flat to increase the lead to 30-8.
The New Zealand response was swift, Peanara getting over and Barrett’s conversion reducing the lead to 30-15 on 51 minutes. Ben Smith scored a third Blacks try on 59 minutes, converted by Barrett and now it was 30-22. A Murray penalty eased the anxiety as this game clicked into nail-biting time and another seven pointer from New Zealand left just four points between the sides at 33-29.
In a flurry of excitement, Ireland drove upfield, Conor Murray made a decisive tackle to win a five metre scrum and in a slick training ground move, Jamie Heaslip broke unchallenged from the back of the scrum, fed Rob Henshaw and the former Connacht player went over for the decisive try, converted by Joey Carberry.
History made, well done Ireland and hopefully, we can look forward to a first defeat of the same opposition on Irish soil in a few weeks time.

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