Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell celebrated Ireland’s historians in Dunedin, but both men insisted the job was only half done as attention now turns to the series’ decision next weekend.
Exton was majestic as he led Ireland to an impressive 23-12 victory over the All Blacks, their first on New Zealand soil.
The Ireland captain has been part of some special days during his illustrious career but this one was at the top as he brilliantly pulled the strings in an unforgettable victory.
“Any time you write a little bit of history, it means a lot,” Sexton said.
“It’s a very, very special day for everyone in the country.
“We talk about it a lot, we talk about the fact that people at home are very proud of us. It’s at the top of our list.
“I think the effort we put in last week wasn’t worth it. Same effort again this week and it was touch and go. At halftime I was like, ‘Oh my God!’
“But the reaction in the second half was great. To score with 14 men, against 14 of course, but hitting back like we did was great. We stayed in the moment.
“It was far from perfect. We feel like we could have played better at times, but look, it’s a very special day.”
Farrell echoed Sexton’s sentiments as he praised his side’s character in recovering from last weekend’s first Test defeat.
“Well, that’s what it means for the group. It doesn’t mean that to me at all,” stressed the Ireland head coach.
“As Johnny just hinted at, we talk a lot about inspiring people at home and these guys, they keep popping up, they keep popping up and breaking down doors.
“The special thing about tonight is that no other Irish team gets the chance to do it again, right?
“We talk a lot about it, not just beating New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time, but there is a series to be won.
“We’ve earned the right to try it and there are things that will happen in the future that we’re talking about.
“Someone will do something soon, or it could be further behind. It might as well be your time. It might as well be in your career.
“The guys shop and dig deep, they put on such a feat. I think the most gratifying part is everyone knows the All Blacks are coming out in the second game, especially under the roof here, more coherent, playing a faster game.
“These guys obviously didn’t allow that. We started very quickly last week and did exactly the same thing, so trot twice, which shows the courage of the players.
“But the most impressive thing was that we learned from the last week to stay in the game, stay calm and focus on the next moment.
“Of course there were mistakes, as Johnny said, but our mentality never changed. We were not drawn into the lure of the game of 13 men, 14 men trying to play from anywhere. We kept them in their territory and the game control was excellent.”
Sexton had to leave late with a knee injury but the skipper gave a positive update on his fitness:
“I’m fine. I just pinched my knee a bit. I’m fine (for next weekend).”
However, Farrell has to plan with Garry Ringrose after walking off the pitch with a nasty head injury. The center will be shut down for 12 days in accordance with the latest World Rugby guidelines.
Peter O’Mahony is following return-to-play protocols but Ireland appear optimistic he will pull through and be available for the decider in Wellington.
Meanwhile, Harry Byrne has returned to Ireland with a hamstring injury. The young Leinster out-half endured a frustrating tour after failing to play a minute in New Zealand.
Ireland will not name a replacement as Ciarán Frawley will start again at 10am in the second Maori game on Tuesday.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/international-rugby/its-not-just-about-beating-new-zealand-in-new-zealand-for-the-first-time-theres-a-series-to-be-won-ireland-set-sights-on-wellington-41827112.html “It’s not just about beating New Zealand in New Zealand for the first time, there’s a streak to win” – Ireland have Wellington in their sights