Rugby

The IRA, The Haka, And Giving The Finger: Most Memorable Moments From Ireland v New Zealand

The IRA, The Haka, And Giving The Finger: Most Memorable Moments From Ireland v New Zealand

In over a century of trying, Ireland have not yet managed to beat this lot. Misery heaped upon misery with no sign of a catharsis coming. We've lost in a multitude of different ways, from stunning moral victories to frightful hammerings. Not to mention the bog-standard, run of the mill 15-20 point losses.

All we have we have to cling to is memorable moments rather than wins.

Willie Anderson not impressed by New Zealand's dance (1989)

Willie Anderson can legitimately claim to have invented a genre. Others have followed in his path but all pay homage to the original.

Anderson's reasoning was that Lansdowne Road was our home ground and he took umbrage at the fact that the Kiwis were mandated to get the first cheer of the day by "doing a dance."

Willie linked arms with his brethren and marched slowly towards the gesturing All-Blacks. By the dance's conclusion, Willie had gotten, as the Yanks put it, all up in Buck Shelford's grill.

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Buck's scrotum had been stitched back together after being torn asunder in a match against a violent pack of French maniacs three years earlier. He was up for the battle and later said he thought that Willie's challenge was "great".

Subsequent opponents of the All Blacks weren't put off by the fact that Ireland were beaten 23-6 that day and the slow march towards the Haka has become a staple in the intervening years.

All told, one gets the sense that David Campese's response to the Haka at Lansdowne Road two years later pissed them off far more. His response consisted of practicing his kicking at the try-line.

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The 'Everest of moral victories': Most unfancied Irish team of all lead halfway through the second half in Dunedin (1992)

Deserves a bigger, puffed up segment of its own for this is one of the most overlooked of our moral victories.  

Ireland were the ashamed holders of the wooden spoon prize in 1992. A proper, classical wooden spoon too. Not one of those where you win by a point in Cardiff but finish bottom on points difference, a la 1997.

Ireland were beaten by 30 points in both London and Paris. They were booed by their own supporters in the home defeat to Scotland.

And in the opener, they somehow contrived to lose by a point to a truly dismal Welsh team, who had recently been knocked out of the World Cup against Western Samoa ("thank God we weren't playing the whole of Samoa!") and who hadn't won a Five Nations match yet that decade.

It was famously the tournament in which Ireland's gifted winger Simon Geoghegan, widely believed by casual supporters to be our only good player, didn't receive a single pass in an attacking position.

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Ireland's points difference in that year's Five Nations was an eye-watering -70, which was quite something considering that tries were still only worth four points at this stage.

All things considered, it is - arguably - the worst Five Nations campaign in Irish history and there's been some bad ones.

There'd been something of a mass exodus in the period between Ireland's stirring loss to Australia in the 1991 World Cup and the opening test against New Zealand the following May.

Amazingly, only four players who started against Australia in Lansdowne Road played the first test in Dunedin in '92 - Jim Staples, Nick Popplewell, Steve Smith and Brian Robinson.

On the tour itself, Ireland beat South Canterbury and the Bay of Plenty but were outclassed by the top-end New Zealand provincial outfits, Canterbury and Auckland.

Against Auckland in Eden Park, Ireland were walloped 62-7, another in the extremely long line of black days which were now piling on top of one another.

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The scene was set for an unmerciful battering. Everything pointed to a mauling of possibly historic proportions. What followed was described by the Irish Independent as "the Everest of moral victories."

St. Mary's centre Vinny Cunningham scored in the corner early. Moments later, Jim Staples skipped through for a second after a delightful move. Ireland were tossing the ball around with game abandon. While New Zealand were soon to draw level thanks to Frank Bunce, Ireland's advantage was soon restored by a broken field try from Cunningham.

Halfway through the second half, Ireland still led 21-18. Ultimately, we went down 24-21.

Truly, moral victories don't come anymore "moral" than this. Even the often cocky New Zealanders announced that all the kudos must go to Ireland at the final whistle.

In the second test the following week, Ireland were slaughtered 59-6 in Eden Park.

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The 'IRA' letter (1973)

The only time we played New Zealand and emerged without losing to them.

By its own standards, Irish rugby was rude health in the early 1970s. We were in the middle of a five game winning streak against England and were probably the second best side in the Northern Hemisphere after Wales.

The previous year had brought agonising disappointment. For the first time in yonks, Ireland had won in both Twickenham and Paris. With Wales coming to Dublin, it appeared that a Grand Slam was a serious possibility.

Except that neither Wales nor Scotland were coming to Dublin. Despite assurances from the IRA themselves that their players would come to no harm in Dublin, the Welsh and the Scots stayed away.

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The following year, England came to Lansdowne Road and lost 18-9. The English team received a thunderous ovation from the grateful home crowd.  John Pullin's line about being no good but turning up remains one of the most heavily quoted in rugby history.

But only a month earlier, the New Zealanders had landed in Lansdowne Road and played despite receiving a slightly disquieting letter allegedly from representatives of the Official IRA.

We now must dip into a brief and sketchy history lesson this. The split of 1970 had divided the IRA into two camps, the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA. The provos were determined to wage war in Northern Ireland to get rid of the British presence. The Official IRA were moving in a more Marxist direction and asserted that the campaign of the provisionals was sectarian in nature.

The Official IRA would quickly become the force in Irish life most hostile to the Provos' campaign. The most recent split is always the most bitter. Many of the surviving members of 'Official Sinn Fein' now find themselves in the Labour Party.

The Officials declared ceasefire in 1972. They wrote to New Zealand fly half Bob Burgess before the team arrived in Dublin. They assured Burgess that OIRA would "take steps to ensure your safety but we do not trust the Provos (our Black September group)".

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"It is unlikely that any of your members would be treated as hostages, although you play a foreign game and we know that many of have close Ulster associations," the letter wrote. "No such immunity can be extended to any British team, and we assure you that it was with good reason that the Scots and the Welsh did not come here".

The letter, which bears the supposed signatures of Mairin De Burca and Tony Heffernan, was reproduced in full by Tom English in his superb history of Irish rugby 'No Borders'.

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It is to the New Zealanders' credit that, after reading the most non-reassuring letter of reassurance in the whole of history of letters, they still decided to come here anyway.

However, one of the alleged signatories of this letter is now claiming that the Official IRA sent no letter to Burgess. In the updated version of No Borders, Heffernan even suggested to Tom English that the letter might have been composed by Loyalist groups intent on stopping the All Blacks travelling to Dublin.

Gary Halpin getting ahead of himself (1995)

Reaching the quarter-finals represented the summit of Ireland's ambitions for the 1995 World Cup. They were landed in the awkward pool, meaning they were in a group where Wales were the 3rd seeds, as opposed to the potential alternatives of Canada, Italy and Tonga.

Therefore, it was absolutely vital they beat the Welsh, reach the quarter-final and remain in the world's top 8. Once that was achieved they were in bonus territory.

In that respect, the 1995 World Cup was a triumph. Certainly, Noel Murphy and the blazers who were looking after the team deemed it so. Brendan Fanning, who later wrote 'From There to Here', was rather more scathing.

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The critical final pool match against the Welsh, which Ireland won 24-23, was a truly dire game of rugby, in Fanning's estimation, notable for the lack of ambition on both sides. The paltry number of neutrals in the crowd booed relentlessly.

All this makes the bravado at the start of the Ireland-New Zealand feel fairly odd. No one believed Ireland were at all equipped to even challenge New Zealand but they got a quick start.

Prop Gary Halpin put Ireland 5-0 ahead early on and in his pumped up excitement, he flipped the bird in the direction of Sean Fitzpatrick and co.

After a relatively quiet few years in which Australia had been top dogs, the word was that Laurie Mains and John Hart had assembled a frighteningly gifted group of players. Aside from the 1995 World Cup final, they would sweep all before them between '95 and '97.

Though it wasn't Jonah Lomu's first match for New Zealand, it was the game in which he announced himself as a superstar, as something the rugby world hadn't seen before. He had played in the two tests against France the year before where his rawness and inexperience was obvious.

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By the summer if '95, he had been moulded into something unstoppable and ran everyone bar the Springboks ragged.

Jamie Heaslip loses it with Richie (2010)

Richie McCaw was habitually referred to as a 'cheat' during his career, though referees rarely seemed to agree in real time.

Incidentally, don't call Richie a 'cheat' in his hometown. Two local scallywags on New Zealand television made a bet where the losing forfeit involved walking around Canterbury on the day of a game wearing a Sprinbok jerseys holding up a placard saying "MCCAW IS A CHEAT!"

The poor, brave eejit was physically and verbally attacked by irate locals throughout the course of the day and had numerous projectiles flung at him, some of them heavy enough to do damage.

To outsiders, the governance of the breakdown seems to be such a grey area that it makes adjudication on the tackle in Gaelic football look like a straightforward black and white matter.

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McCaw admirers (which is most people) extol his greatness but don't quickly dismiss accusations of cheating. Rather they suggest he is a master of playing the ref and establishing what he can get away with.

Accordingly, McCaw has some subject to what the NZ press refers to as "cheap shots" during his career. Early in the 2010 test in New Plymouth with Ireland trying to barge their way over the New Zealand, Richie set himself to the task of slowing the Irish ball.

It was all too much for Jamie Heaslip who lost his cool and aimed a few kicks and knees squarely at Richie's head. Wayne Barnes whistled and flashed a red card Heaslip's way. Ireland's chances were remote enough to begin with and were now almost non-existant. The match finished 66-28 at the end.

Brian O'Driscoll interviews: Freezing and Fergburgers (2008-12)

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Connacht played in Siberia last season and we hope that if there were broadcasters out there, they brought the players down the tunnel before asking them questions.

The New Zealand television people didn't extend the same courtesy to Brian O'Driscoll in Wellington in June 2008. Ireland lost 21-11, hanging in there well until Ma'a Nonu scored the insurance try with twenty minutes left.

Drico was obliged to take part in a post-match interviews and the machievellian Kiwis sought to give our captain frostbite for the second test and dragged him outside.

The 2012 tour against New Zealand is remembered for Nigel Owens and Liam Toland's spiteful back and forth on Twitter, and Brian O'Driscoll confirming to the New Zealand press that he wouldn't still be playing in 2024.

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It continued Ireland's tradition of touring New Zealand right at the moment when the country's fortunes were at a low-ish ebb.

The tour followed a strange pattern.

We were humped in Games 1 and 3 and in between those two pastings, there was one stunning, tear-jerking moral victory/heartrending defeat.

The tour ended on a desperate, embarrassing loss. 60-0. A sickening final game for Brian O'Driscoll in New Zealand. Ludicrously, the reporter asked him if he'd be back.

I won’t be down in New Zealand playing again because I won’t be around in 12 years, but if Queenstown’s calling then I might be down for a Fergburger again.

 

Read more: Pick The Irish Team You Want To See Take On The All Blacks

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Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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