That was a game for the ages. From the hour beforehand to the first kick, the mighty hits, the Stockdale try and the O’Mahoney Magic, this was one of those occasions where the hype beforehand seemed almost understated.
True the nature of international rugby, at least in its present form, means that this was at the end of the day, just a friendly test match and there will be a totally different set of pressures should the two sides meet in the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year. But for now, this was as good as it has ever been for Irish Rugby.
Of course, there are subtexts that niggle away after the flush of victory has faded. Was this the moment in time where New Zealand realised with certainty that Joe Schmidt had to be their next coach and would that make it a pyrrhic victory.
Both coaches Steve Hansen and Schmidt have said they will make their minds up on their post World Cup future before Christmas. Schmidt has said consistently it will be a decision for his family to make and in Ireland, we know all too well about the powerful lure of a return to home.
Schmidt has built his career to its current high outside of New Zealand over the past 11 years. There is no other coach in the world who can produce as well burnished a career roll call as he can, from Clermont Auvergne through Leinster and taking Ireland to two Grand Slams, four Six Nations and within touching distance of becoming, on rankings; the best team in the world.
He is the boss of a strong group of coaches and players and it is not all down to him in the least, but every great team requires a bit of magic and the leadership he provides is that for this group.
What damage it might do the team if he announces in the coming weeks that he will be stepping down 12 months from now is anybody’s guess. The team will take such confidence from Saturday that maybe it won’t be as bad but Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t announce his retirement until two weeks after Manchester United had won their 20th Title in 2013. They’ve only finished in the Top Three once since then.
Schmidt is 52 years old. Both of New Zealand’s last two coaches Sir Graham Henry and Steve Hansen were similar ages when they were appointed. Both served for at least seven years so if Schmidt wants to lead the All Blacks the chances are that this is his time, this is his shot.
That would be a blow to Irish fans but there is a respect for the man and his devotion to family and doing the right thing that it would be quickly forgiven.
Looking at the numbers and the patterns in detail, which Schmidt is known for in his attention to the small things, everything points to his wearing a fern rather than a shamrock this time next year. But we have him through to the World Cup and after Saturday night that’s a tournament that we cannot wait to come around.
Image Credit: Tommy Dickson, Inpho.ie