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Ireland 40 New Zealand 29: Proud Rory Best delighted with Irish heroes

Ireland 40 New Zealand 29

By Jonathan Bradley

There must have been something in the Chicago air.

Ireland arrived in the city to the euphoria of a Cubs World Series celebration that was 108 years in the making last week and, almost unfathomably, by Saturday night had ended an even longer sporting drought in Soldier Field.

When the star-crossed baseball franchise from the north side of the Windy City won their previous title in 1908, Ireland had already had three years to ruminate on a first loss to the mighty All Blacks.

Twenty-seven further Irish squads would try and fail to exact revenge, few ever coming closer than the side of 2013 who had their hearts broken by a stunning comeback in the final passage of play.

Looking throughout like they had been counting down the days until this opportunity to make amends, Ireland blitzed the World champions for five tries and, when the fightback attempt inevitably arrived, this time they had the fortitude to see it off.

Ulsterman Rory Best, adding a maiden victory over New Zealand to a captaincy record that already boasted a first win on South African soil, radiated pride after the final whistle.

"It's history made and we're absolutely ecstatic," Best beamed.

"We knew they were a great side, and you could see how good they are, but we knew we just had to go out and attack them.

"It's been a long time coming. You can see how good a side they are and how much it means to our boys."

From casual indifference to fiery aggression, or even the tossing of a blade of grass into the air, there has been endless debate through the years over the best way to face down New Zealand's traditional pre-match Haka.

In Chicago, Ireland produced a poignant response, forming a figure of eight in memory of former Ireland international and Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who died at the age of 42 last month.

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

"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 just felt like the right thing to do and it was our way as an Irish national team to show a mark of respect to Axel and his family."

Foley, whose father Brendan was in the Munster line-up of 1978, the only previous senior men's team from this island to beat the All Blacks, had four of his former charges in the starting side and it is perhaps no coincidence that all were fantastic.

The aggression of Donnacha Ryan, strength of the tireless CJ Stander and verve of Simon Zebo were exemplary.

Conor Murray, however, was the star performer, producing a display that was not only his best for Ireland, but the best that anyone has conjured for the side in some time.

Leinster's Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip rolled back the years, while Robbie Henshaw was also outstanding. Best's fellow Ulstermen Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne came up with big defensive contributions.

Matches between these two sides have tended towards two distinct patterns. Either the favourites have established and built upon an early lead, or Ireland have surged ahead only to be reeled in and ultimately surpassed.

While the ending was very different, at stages it seemed as if Saturday was adopting characteristics of both.

First, there was the quick-fire try from Steve Hansen's winners of 18 Tests in a row

Johnny Sexton had already kicked Ireland into a three-point lead when, with only five minutes on the clock, George Moala took advantage of what turned out to be rare defensive miscues to scamper home.

Jordi Murphy, later lost to what appears to be knee ligament damage, quickly responded after Joe Moody had been binned for a tip tackle on Henshaw.

Ireland made the most of the numerical advantage, scoring a second try during the 10-minute period when Stander muscled over from close range.

Sexton and Beauden Barrett traded penalties but when Murray scored, just as he had done in 2013, Ireland took an even greater lead into the turn than they had that Dublin day three years ago.

Zebo added a fourth with the first score after the restart following more good work from the maul but then the expected New Zealand response arrived.

TJ Perenara, on for the ineffectual Aaron Smith, was first to score, with Ben Smith and Scott Barrett following suit to reduce the deficit to a mere four points.

Just when history seemed to be repeating itself, it was Henshaw who burst through to ensure that this time would be different.

What had seemed so improbable, even occasionally impossible, had happened.

Afterwards, Joe Schmidt joked that it may be time to relax his ban on alcohol for the flight home. Once they land, neither he nor his squad will ever have to buy a pint again.

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; D Toner, D Ryan; CJ Stander, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin (for Best, 71), C Healy (for McGrath, 62), F Bealham (for Furlong, 57), U Dillane (for Ryan, 65), J van der Flier (for Murphy, 26), K Marmion, J Carbery (for Sexton, 60), G Ringrose.

New Zealand: B Smith; W Naholo, G Moala, R Crotty, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; P Tuipulotu, J Kaino; L Squire, S Cane, K Read (capt).

Replacements: C Taylor (for Moala, 71) O Tu'ungafasi (for Moody, 63), C Faumuina, S Barrett (for Tuipulotu, 46) A Savea (for Read, 60), TJ Perenara (for Smith,46), A Cruden (for Naholo, 63), M Fekitoa (for Crotty, 26)

Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Man of the match: Conor Murray

Match Rating: 9/10

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