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Ireland's Chicago shock gives us all hope and was a fantastic result for game as a whole

By Tony Ward

Let's try and keep a bit of perspective here.

Beating New Zealand for the first time in our history doesn't mean we are going to win the next World Cup.

What it does mean is that despite the retirement of so many from our undisputed golden generation, we have been working our way through the transition with an exceptional coach at the tiller.

Quite apart from back-to-back Six Nations titles, under Joe Schmidt we have beaten the Springboks for the first time on South African soil followed by Saturday's ground-breaking victory.

No team is invincible, but to stop the greatest rugby team we have known in their tracks in the manner we did augurs hugely well for the future - and that future starts on Saturday when a very different Irish team will take on Canada at the Aviva.

No-one expected Ireland to beat the All Blacks - and include me in that. But I felt we were in with a real shot because of the absence of three of the best locks in world rugby.

It was a no brainer that Ireland would target the lineout and build their game-plan from there, factoring in the defensive line-speed that Andy Farrell has brought in.

There is no doubt the think tank took the Argentinian template from the Championship meeting in Hamilton, where the Pumas rattled the All Blacks in the first half with incessant intensity allied to soft hands - a difficult combination any time.

Ireland needed an extra 40 minutes of pure slog, and it came down to the bench allied to the ability to keep the brain chilled when the heart and legs were clearly burning.

That represents the biggest step of all for this evolving group.

What impressed me most of all was that Ireland had the wherewithal to survive the second-half Kiwi assault and score the most vital try of all - fittingly it was the selfless, hard-working Robbie Henshaw who struck the final history-making blow in the last minutes.

While the backlash is guaranteed on Saturday week, Ireland surely have the confidence to tweak their game-plan against a more fully loaded New Zealand side and make a serious statement of intent.

I can't wait for the rematch - for which tickets will be like gold dust.

Judging by the number of messages I am still receiving, the Soldier Field outcome has resonated all the way around the world.

Certainly in terms of advancing the case for the 2023 World Cup coming to Ireland, those on the frontline are doing their bit.

And you know what, we'll put on some show just as the Americans did in the Windy City on Saturday.

The fans were magnificent. The support in the final six or so minutes had to be experienced to be believed as those clad in green - the vast majority - sang their hearts out for Ireland. I just feel so privileged to have been there.

Chicago, thanks to the Cubs and the Fighting Irish, was a special place to be.

And I should also mention New Zealand's magnanimity in defeat. Players, coaches, media and fans were dignified and gracious.

It was no more than I would have expected from the greatest rugby-playing nation.

Aaron Cruden's gesture in the minutes after the final whistle really stood out: the All Black replacement out-half sought his opposite number Joey Carbery and handed the debutant his shirt, but refused point-blank to take the emerging star's jersey in return.

Old rugby values still hold. It was on a par with Sonny Bill Williams' post-World Cup final generosity, when he handed his medal to the young fan in Twickenham.

I'm told by those close to Cruden that this gesture was typical of the man.

The heart and soul of the game was on show to the whole world.

Even taking the remarkable Irish triumph out of the equation, the staging of this game in Chicago represents a win-win all round.

The biggest crowd ever to attend a rugby game in the US rubber-stamped that view.

The victory is huge for Irish rugby, but it is also good for the game as a whole, given the gap that was developing between New Zealand and the rest of the rugby-playing community.

It's no harm for this particular All Black group to be checked in their stride either, irrespective of how short-lived that blip might be.

Beyond the game itself, I must admit I found the violin version of Ireland's Call strange.

I dearly wish we had a common anthem because the All Blacks, through God Defend New Zealand and the Haka, have a psychological advantage before a ball is kicked.

Belfast Telegraph


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