A courageous Ireland held off an All Blacks fightback to claim a famous 32-22 win in Wellington on Saturday and seal the three-test series 2-1 with an irresistible blend of muscle and inspiration.
Warhorse captain Johnny Sexton was supreme as the Irish shot out to a 22-3 lead by halftime, stunning the hosts with sparkling tries, bone-jarring tackles and razor-sharp skills.
Proud New Zealand, fired by rampaging loose forward Ardie Savea and jet-heeled winger Will Jordan, clawed their way back to within three points by the hour-mark to set up a tense finish.
But replacement prop Rob Herring grabbed a try from a lineout drive to steady the Irish, and their stonewall defence held off waves of All Blacks attackers to ensure a famous win.
“We had 4 million people at home, up for breakfast and probably having a couple of beers, we wanted to do them proud tonight and we certainly did that,” said Sexton.
“We were playing against the best in the world, the very best, and to come down here and do that is very special.”
Ireland will now shoot to the top of the world rankings a year out from the World Cup, while New Zealand’s defeat, their fourth in five tests, will heap further pressure on embattled coach Ian Foster.
The All Blacks slumped to back-to-back home defeats for the first time in 24 years.
“We’re gutted,” said All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
“We didn’t put out the performance we wanted to but we can’t take anything away from Ireland. They were too good tonight. Massive respect to Ireland, they’ve been class and they deserve their win tonight.”
The Irish, as in their 23-12 win last week in Dunedin, charged out of the blocks and stunned the home side with ferocity and verve.
They were daring from the get-go, with Sexton spurning an early shot at goal to set up a line-out drive and the opening try to flanker Josh van der Flier.
Ineffective with ball in hand, the All Blacks went to the air via the boots of the Barrett brothers but were kept scoreless for 23 minutes until fullback Jordie knocked over a penalty.
Sexton and his outside backs hit straight back with a glittering try at the left corner, a no-look pass by winger James Lowe putting a charging Hugo Keenan over.
Sexton’s partnership with centre Bundee Aki caused New Zealand headaches, the former’s quick hands putting the latter through a hole in front of the posts and setting up the third try to Robbie Henshaw three minutes from the break.
The All Blacks’ pride demanded a response and Savea delivered four minutes after the break, spinning out of a collision on the line to score a team-rallying try.
Ireland prop Andrew Porter was given a yellow card for a high tackle on lock Brodie Retallick, triggering boos from home fans who wanted worse.
Akira Ioane capitalised immediately for the hosts with a 52nd minute try, beating four defenders on the way to the line.
The All Blacks came again with a brilliant try to Jordan, who burst from the 22-metre line, bolting more than 70 metres to touch down at the right corner and send home fans into a frenzy.
It looked like the All Blacks would rumble on to victory but Sexton again intervened.
He waved away another chance for three points, backing his forwards to do the job with another lineout drive.
Herring broke off the maul and slammed the ball on the line.
Sexton snuck the conversion through to carve out a 10-point lead that Ireland defended bravely all the way to the siren.