Ireland stuns All Blacks 40-29
First defeat for New Zealand in 19 matches
Match played at Soldier Field in Chicago
Irish run in five tries in thriller
The New Zealand All Blacks saw their 18-match winning run come to a shuddering halt Saturday in the unlikely setting of Soldier Field – home of the Chicago Bears.
With the Windy City still celebrating as the Chicago Cubs upset the odds for a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Indians, so the underdog Ireland also caused a massive shock in a 40-29 win over the giants of rugby.
A unique tribute to former Ireland star Anthony Foley, who died three ago in Paris, was the prelude to a stunning display by Joe Schmidt’s team against the world champion.
A massive Irish contingent in the 62,000 crowd at a packed stadium could hardly believe the halftime scoreline as three tries put their side 25-8 ahead at the break.
Tries from Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander and Conor Murray against a single cross by George Moala for the All Blacks left the Irish in dreamland and their hopes grew further early in the second half as Simon Zebo went over to extend the lead to 30-8
But in a thrilling match, back came the New Zealand team in typical fashion, cutting the Irish lead with two tries of its own from TJ Perenara and Scott Barrett, playing alongside his brother Beauden for the first time at international level.
It looked a familiar story of past encounters between the two teams, but Ireland refused to buckle amid intense pressure.
With the clock running down, Robbie Henshaw crashed over for a converted try and a famous victory – the first for Ireland over the All Blacks in its 111-year history – was sealed.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team and the work we have put in,” Irish captain Rory Best told BT Sport.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s history made and a marvelous performance from us.”
Best also paid tribute to the Irish supporters who made Soldier Field feel like “home from home” for his team.
Certainly the experiment of returning to the famous stadium for a second Rugby Union Test, the All Blacks had thrashed the US Eagles last year, was vindicated with a breathtaking encounter.
The scene was set as the All Blacks performed the traditional Haka, with the Irish team standing in a figure of eight to remember Foley, who wore that numbered shirt for Ireland.
They certainly did him proud on the field in the 29th meeting of the two nations, dating back to 1905.
It was New Zealand’s first defeat since its loss to Australia in August 2015, having set a new world record for consecutive victories last month.
The two teams meet again in Dublin in a fortnight’s time.