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Chicago is the city of Lovable Winners this week as Ireland defeats New Zealand for the first time since they started playing each other in 1905.
As Ireland started well against New Zealand and then kept the lead at Soldier Field, the first 50 minutes were surprise, followed by delight, followed by optimism.
Then New Zealand narrowed the gap, and anxiety and tension wandered into the stadium. When Julian Savea was tackled in his own try zone near the end of the match, following a good kick by Simon Zebo and great chase, a cry of relief came out from the crowd. When Robbie Henshaw scored on the first phase from the following scrum, the celebration began.
The final score was 40-29.
The official attendance was 62,300, and it seemed nearly all enjoyed the Irish upset. "The longer the game went, the more [the crowd] got behind us," observed Irish coach Joe Schmidt. Schmidt complimented his side's character and described himself as only another spectator once the match started.
Ireland's captain Rory Best said, “We are a tight group, we’re well-coached, we do lot of homework, and that showed today.”
Today’s win by Ireland, “Makes up for the last time when they probably should have won,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen. "I hope they thoroughly enjoy the victory.”
According to All Blacks captain Kieran Read, “They came out with a lot of emotion and played very smartly.”
On Michigan Avenue before the match, Irish and All Blacks jerseys were worn in tandem with Cubs hats, no one seeming to want to let go of the great moment the Cubs created.
A fitting symbol for the day was a fan wearing an Irish jersey with a Cubs “W” flag sticker on his chest.
During the Haka, Ireland stood in an eight, in memory of Anthony Foley. In terms of channeling those who have worn the jersey before, that’s a pretty strong response to the Haka. “This was the national team’s first time together since [Anthony Foley’s] passing, so we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Best.
The question hanging in the air at halftime, with Ireland up 25-8, was whether Chicago could lend to Ireland some drought-ending magic.
When I was gawking at the Cubs parade alongside some Irish reporters, I pointed out how long the city had been waiting for this parade. The reaction was a scoff, something along the lines off, “1908? That’s not a drought. Since 1905? Now that’s a drought.”
From the start, Ireland played with ambition, and they were rewarded. They were also helped by an unusually high number of mistakes by the All Blacks. Still, Ireland controlled the match and their destiny.
The World Series and gorgeous weather put a nice shine to The Rugby Weekend, as everyone seemed to enjoy both. This upset by Ireland, though, gives the weekend its own rugby-only significance.