Monday, November 19, 2018

Keego on... the moustache of Tuinukuafe

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So the table was set, the lucky pub was visited, the nervous Guinness drinking was at a level seldom seen. Would Ireland be able to slay the giants of world rugby? Would Ireland be able to show that they belong at the top table and are to be feared by all around them?

My nerves struggled, my mind raced and my trousers tightened during the game but to quote another Irish sporting behemoth, ‘Ireland baby!, we did it!’
The All Blacks arrived looking to put what some see as their main competition in their box. To send a message to the world after a dodgy performance last week against England. The team selected was close to their best, only missing Sonny Bill really. So how would Ireland handle it? 

Well let’s start with the score. It finished at a strong and confident 16-9 to Ireland! 

Now let’s look at the stats:
Ireland had 52% possession for 53% territory. Made 87% of 188 tackles, the ABs made 88% of 198. Ireland conceded 5 penalties to the All Blacks 11. Ireland lost 2 of 13 lineouts, AB lost 1 of 8. Both scrums had a 100% return for their team. The only other stat that stands out in terms of general play is Ireland conceded 11 turnovers whereas ABs conceded 17. 

Phew, that is even tiring to type let alone play in and watch! 

Ireland kicked more than New Zealand which was interesting, 30 to 23. The All Blacks kick the ball more than anyone and had aimed at Earls, but Ireland managed that part of the game much better and as people say, if Ireland wins the kicking game they are going to win the game. 

But let’s look at the work the Irish team did. You won’t believe this. James Ryan had 20 tackles only missing 1. JVDF had 16 missing 1, Ringrose had 14 missing only 1 and Healy had 12 missing 1. Just look at that work, especially considering that Healy didn’t play the entire 80. New Zealand had 10 players in the double figures in terms of tackles made, all over the pitch they were called into action. Ireland played the wet blanket pressure game and every single black jersey was called on to work. 

So let’s look at how the game went. Ireland started with amazing control, discipline and aggression. New Zealand had 3 minutes in the first 5 camped on the Irish line, but was unable to break through. That opening shot from the ABs finished with JVDF and Stander combining for a steal. And a roar from the crowd in the Aviva (and the Queens pub) that I have rarely heard.  103 tackled in 17 minutes for 3 points each. That is how close it was. 

The interesting part for me to see was how Ireland where defending. Every time there was impact, they managed to direct/force the attacking All Blacks in field as opposed to allowing them outside. The tackler makes the call and the 2 players either side looked to be following his lead every time. It was so controlled that it was beyond impressive. 

20 minutes in and Ireland aren’t in trouble. Looking comfortable and the nervous drinking has calmed in favour of confident drinking. The scrum was another massive point, could Ireland compete? First scrum was at 19 minutes and Ireland controlled the NZ scrum. The thing to look out for when rewatching is the moustache of Tuinukuafe struggling every time. 

Ireland where able to read New Zealand for the majority of the game. That doesn’t mean anything was easy, the All Blacks are still a frightening team when they have half a second of space. But Ireland found comfort in the wet blanket of green pressure. Strangulation rugby was in full affect.  Rory Best executed the lineout call like he should and some intricate lineouts went to hand. The pressure was such that it drew intentional fouls from a rattled All Blacks. 

So we get to the other worry pre game. The referee Wayne Barnes. How would he do? Well, the way the result went we can say ‘phew’ but in reality, it was a(nother) bad day at the office for Barnes. From minute 23 for most of the remainder of the half, Ireland where camped in the All Blacks red zone. It was like they were camping for the weekend at electric picnic. Penalty after penalty where drawn out of New Zealand, all based on pressure.  It took 8 of these infringements for Barnes to have a word with the All Black captain. During an advantage there was a dink from Sexton over the line and Kearney was fouled twice on the way to dotting the ball on the last millimetre of the whitewash. The linesman and Barnes himself called it as a try on the pitch, so the TMO had the decision. This wasn’t a game so far, Ireland where in charge of all aspects of the game.  The ball was under the forearm and technically was a knock on, probably the correct decision, but was not a total loss as Ireland knew they rattled the world champions. They were flailing around like this old man playing J4 rugby years ago, just hoping to hit something. 
So 6-3 at 27 minutes, and the entire pub was in full voice. Unlike previous years, there was no worry or expectancy of having to handle a comeback. We knew we were more equipped to handle it than previous years. I was in the same position in 2013 and the pub was the complete opposite. Lessons are being learned on a minute by minute basis. The lesson that New Zealand will take a drop goal instead of going for it with a penalty advantage in the back pocket. Even in losing 3 points, Ireland knew that the opposition was rattled, taking the points rather than taking advantage of the advantage. 

6-6 at 29 minutes. Still calm at the bar while keeping Guinness in business. I would suggest if you have stocks in the brand, they are worth triple this morning after the work we did on Saturday night. 

The second half starts with the same pattern. Ireland strong, the All Blacks a bit unsure. They are not playing badly at all; they are just being suffocated for the first time in a very long time. We are approaching a Tyson v Douglas type of game. The mystique of the greatest team ever to play the game is being chipped away at. Ireland are standing up to the world champions and inching forward every time. The subs started well ahead of 50 minutes which shows how massive the workload has been, is fitness an issue for New Zealand? 

As we roll towards the hour, Peter O’Mahony continues to show an effort that is beyond the beyond. Amazing to watch. Every single player is working above their optimal. At 63 minutes O’Mahony gets a round of applause from every corner of Ireland. Tears were shed for what that man did. Beyond saluted!

So we roll into the business end of the game, the last 15 minutes. Ireland is 16-6 up. Pressure on the All Blacks because they know they need 2 scores to draw the game. 64 minutes, the expected All Black replies are starting to form around the pitch. No one in the bar is worried, we are still on the edge of our seat, we are still screaming but we are also seeing an Ireland team who is performing at this pace. Rob Kearney showed his experience in stopping an All Black attack which was finished by McGrath finding the Lansdowne train station platform. This was followed by a steal from Henderson in the lineout and Ireland just kept moving forward. Demoralising the world champions, along with wasting a few seconds every time. 

77 minutes gone and Ireland are standing up to a New Zealand team attempting to attack from their own 22. The noise in the Aviva and in pubs nationwide goes up another few decibels. The sheer effort is amazing. Ireland have the ball at 78, we hear Barnes say 2 minutes left. Surely Ireland will keep the ball and bash away, surely that will get rid of 120 seconds. McGrath lining up a box kick, surely not. Surely he won’t give the ball away. He does and a sound comes from everyone that reminded me of the time I opened up maths paper 2 in the leaving cert all those years ago, the expletives where about the same but thankfully the result was not. 

79 minutes and the ball is still in the All Black half... The talk of the final run that heart-breaking run is going around. Will our hearts be broken again? I was never worried about it. The tackles where coming in in green and the All Blacks where trying every trick in the book, but that green line sucked everyone in, 7 seconds left. Ball on the deck, they have no choice but to go for it. 
Green line remains intact

Fields of Athenry being sung in every room on the island
80:16 New Zealand go for it for one last time
The crowd gets louder

80:34 tackles still coming
All Blacks getting close, in the 22
16 phases, momentum building

80:50 they knock it on! It’s all over, Ireland have beaten the 2 time world champions!

Ireland has stepped up to the top table, sat down and is comfortable eating their dinner! Every single player stepped up, stood up and worked for each other! 

Every player made tackles, every player led the team and every single player showed more heart than ever before. This was a win for Ireland, not a loss for New Zealand. They wanted Irelands scalp, they wanted to put Ireland back in their box. Ireland showed that the gap between the two teams have never been smaller. 

Watching this game, I felt confident going in. I thought that if we could get everything working as it should, we could compete but would need some luck. In the end Ireland didn’t need luck. Ireland just needed themselves. That is the biggest takeaway from the game. 

In closing, my eyes where sweating for most of the night, I sat with some English people who were right there screaming with us. They don’t have nights like this where they are from. 

I hope everyone celebrated to the point where we won’t recover until next Thursday! But let’s remember, it is only 1 game. Regroup, rebound and remember. No need to bring in negativity from twitter, this was THE performance! 

I need some time to recover!

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Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019