Belfast Telegraph

Rory Best inspired Ireland team to historic All Blacks win

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards

By Steven Beacom

In 111 years, the Ireland rugby team had never beaten the mighty All Blacks. On November 5, 2016 the men in green finally got there, defeating New Zealand 40-29 in an epic contest in Chicago.

What a glorious triumph for Irish rugby and what a glorious moment for Ireland skipper Rory Best.

In the build up to the match, Best proved to be an inspirational figure and once the game began he offered more of the same, leading his team to an emotional success.

For Ulster star Best, it was the greatest victory of his long and celebrated career.

World champions New Zealand entered the Test match as hot favourites and on the back of an 18-match winning run with some suggesting they were the finest side of all time.

Crucially, Ireland showed no fear. In an incredible first half, Best and his boys blew the All Blacks away in the 'Windy City'.

Tries from Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander and Conor Murray helped the Irish lead 25-8 at the break. Simon Zebo increased the advantage in the second half before New Zealand mounted a stirring comeback.

At one stage it looked like the All Blacks would power past Joe Schmidt's men but they stood firm and finished the match with a flourish when Robbie Henshaw touched down late, much to the jubilation of the 62,300-strong crowd.

The final score of 40-29 will forever be etched in the minds of Ireland's rugby fans and of their proud captain Best.

"We knew if we stood off New Zealand that they were an unbelievably dangerous outfit so we talked about attacking them," explained Best.

"We got off to a great start and the boys did everything asked of them, even when New Zealand were coming back into the game. It was an incredible victory for us.

"It's been a long time coming and history has been made. This means a lot to all of us."

Best, playing in his 98th Test against the Kiwis, dedicated the historic victory to ex-Irish captain and Munster coach Anthony Foley.

A few weeks later Best became the first Ulsterman to win 100 caps for Ireland. On that day he led the side to victory over Australia in Dublin. What a wonderful way to end the international year.