Persistence pays off in epic quest to beat All Blacks

Ireland waited 111 years and endured several heartbreaks before ending their New Zealand hoodoo in the most unlikely venue.

TOKYO, 17 Oct - The men in green kept plugging away - coming so near, yet somehow always ending up so far away - to the point where they wondered if they would ever beat the men in black. 

Eventually, after 111 years and at the 29th attempt, it came to pass that Ireland ended one of international sport's longest droughts against their tormentors from New Zealand.

Here is a look at some of those agonising near misses and how Joe Schmidt's team at last broke their duck in, of all places, the United States, celebrated above by Donnacha Ryan and Billy Holland.

Ireland 5-6 New Zealand

7 December, 1963, Dublin 

They had lost by 15 points to the "Originals" in 1905, and by just six points to the "Invincibles" in 1924, but when another visiting powerhouse New Zealand team, featuring the young Colin Meads, turned up for a fifth visit to Lansdowne Road, the home side thought that, at last, they had downed them. Then, with Ireland leading 5-3, speedy flanker Eamonn McGuire caught a high cross-field kick and zoomed to the line, only for the try to be disallowed because the English referee could not confirm - unlike the rest of Ireland - that he had grounded the ball over the line. Don "The Boot" Clarke then kicked the winning penalty after a minor scrum infringement.

Ireland 10-10 New Zealand

20 January, 1973, Dublin

A decade later, the agony was multiplied as a splendid Irish team, featuring captain Tom Kiernan, Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson and Fergus Slattery, watched in misery as Barry McGann's conversion to win the match caught on the wind and drifted inches wide. Ever since, McGann has been apologising for denying immortality to his mate Tom Grace, who moments earlier had won the race to the corner for a dazzling kick-and-chase try. The Irish consolation? A first draw in six attempts, while also denying the All Blacks a grand slam over the home nations.

Ireland 6-10 New Zealand

4 November, 1978, Dublin

The start of a great All Black tradition against Ireland: the last-minute heartbreaker. Only four days after New Zealand had gone down to their historic defeat against Munster, the prospect of a second successive loss was unthinkable and it was no coincidence that the tourists did not concede a try in their next 10 games. "By God, when we lose, we're a bad mother to tangle with," as the All Blacks winger Stu Wilson put it. Turning the game into a dour arm-wrestle, and with the scores level at 6-6 going into injury time, hooker Andy Dalton finally burrowed his way over for the decisive score, though there are Irishmen who to this day swear he got away with an obstruction in the build-up.

New Zealand 24-21 Ireland

30 May, 1992, Dunedin

The previous near misses had all come on Irish soil but this one was striking because the Irish were given absolutely no hope in Carisbrook's "House of Pain", the spread prediction being a 50-point beating for the visitors. Instead, Vinny Cunningham's brilliant double and another try for Jim Staples gave them a deserved 21-18 lead midway through the second half, only for their defence to part and let in Frank Bunce for the winning try. Yet there was still time for one final agonising miss as Ulster wing Ronnie Carey spilled a potential interception try - something he says he has never stopped thinking about.

New Zealand 22-19 Ireland

16 June, 2012, Christchurch

In the first test to be played in Christchurch since the previous year's earthquake, Ireland stretched the world champions to the limit, leading 10-0 thanks to a Conor Murray try. But, almost inevitably, more last-minute misery struck when Dan Carter dropped a scruffy winning goal for the All Blacks, who at that point were down to 14 men. "We fell at the final hurdle still," bemoaned Brian O’Driscoll.

Ireland 22-24 New Zealand

24 November, 2013, Dublin 

"Which one was that?" Dane Coles asked cheekily this week - as if he could not remember. Of course, he would never forget the offload that put Ryan Crotty away for the 82nd-minute try that sealed New Zealand's greatest escape against Ireland. A retaken conversion by Aaron Cruden then sealed the win which made Ireland - who led 19-0 after 18 minutes - wonder if they could ever beat the All Blacks. Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who had watched his side tear into the Kiwis like never before, reckons he has never stopped bleeding from the cruelty of that defeat, while Crotty still ends up apologising to every Irishman he meets.  

Ireland 40-29 New Zealand

5 November, 2016, Chicago

At last. In front of 62,300 fans at the storied Soldier Field stadium, more famed for American football exploits, Ireland not only broke their 111-year duck but smashed it to smithereens, scoring five tries - from Jordi Murphy, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Simon Zebo, above, and Robbie Henshaw - to end the All Blacks' world record run of 18 consecutive victories against Tier 1 nations. Seemingly inspired by the memory of Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who had died suddenly the previous month, Ireland were 17 points up at the break and, though they faced an inevitable "black-lash", still came on strong with Henshaw's late clincher. Earlier that week, the Chicago River had been dyed blue to honour the Cubs' World Series baseball triumph. "They are going to have to dye it green for this one," beamed Rory Best. "It's been worth the wait."

RNS ic/sg/ns/ajr