DUBLIN -- There were still two minutes on the clock when James Lowe sank to his knees, raised his arms into the air, and roared with delight. Ireland were six points up and referee Luke Pearce had just awarded the home side a penalty. Lowe knew what the raucous Aviva Stadium knew: There was no coming back for the All Blacks. The noise was deafening, and few were of a mind to leave, preferring instead to stay long after the final whistle to soak in one of the great victories in Irish rugby.
The win marked Ireland's third against the All Blacks in five years. It was arguably their best yet. There were few moments in the game where Andy Farrell's men seemed out of control, passing the ball with sublime speed and accuracy. They had shown a spark that excited fans in the Japan game last week and the team turned that into a furious blaze on Saturday. Ireland showed ambition from the start, putting in heavy tackles and going through the phases patiently.
"Ireland thoroughly deserved their win," Ian Foster said. "I was really impressed with them. They played a high tempo game and kept us chasing."
It seemed apt that it would be Lowe first to cross the tryline for Ireland. Born in New Zealand, he attacked the game with the ferocity of a man who had something to prove. In a rare turn, it won't even be his diving try in the corner of the field that he will be remembered for but instead his crunching tackle on Rieko Ioane deep in the second half, staving off a possible try and lead for the All Blacks.
"Never in a million years could I have thought this day would come. Since I was a kid I dreamed of being an All Black," Lowe said after the game.
"It's just a very Kiwi thing to do. I gave up that dream. Well, I wasn't quite good enough and to be able to come over here and put in a performance against the best team in the world -- they are the standard bearers.
"Words can't describe. To hear my country's national anthem, to stand in front of the haka, it's a childhood dream."
Despite the performance of Lowe and the rest of the Ireland squad, they were left to rue the chances they left behind and the lapses in concentration which allowed New Zealand into the game. It was disorientating to look at the score at half-time and see the visiting side ahead, such was the way Ireland had performed. New Zealand took the few chances they had though and defended like their lives depended on it.
Ireland re-emerged for the second half with more vigour than they had shown in the first half.
"This team has worked a hell of a lot on the mental side of our game," Sexton said after the game when asked how the team dealt with going into the dressing room down despite the performance they had put in.
New Zealand were given no time to settle, and Ireland levelled within four minutes with Sexton executing his iconic wraparound to set Kelleher on track for the line. Caelan Doris -- voted man of the match for a performance that saw him cover just about every patch of the field and winning turnovers at crucial times -- got a deserved try next and after missing his two previous conversions, Sexton made no mistake with the third.
New Zealand's ability to make something out of nothing served them well on the day, and they pulled it back to a three point game. Will Jordan chipped the ball to Ioane who returned the ball to the winger and he ran it over.
Ireland needed a push and the Munster contingent -- Peter O'Mahony, Joey Carbery and Tadhg Beirne -- delivered off the bench to see out the win. O'Mahony pulled off a monumental turnover to save Irish heartbreak towards the end while Carbery's halfway line penalty was willed over the bar by every Irish soul in the Aviva. Beirne secured the penalty that brought Lowe to his knees.
It may be becoming more familiar for Ireland in recent years to beat the All Blacks, but after decades of near misses and cruel hammerings, it is far from losing its glow. The trickle of fans out of the Aviva was slow at the end, many refusing to leave -- instead, they clapped the team as they made their rounds around the stadium. Such is the Irish way that it is to be seen if they will repeat this form when it matters at a World Cup. But, for now, they have seven wins in a row and Farrell -- who was on dodgy territory for a while -- has the faith of the masses.