Rugby: Ireland win with style, grace on and off field

By Gregor Paul, Gregor Paul in Chicago

In what was a brilliant game of rugby, it turned out that the classiest performances of the day in Chicago came after the final whistle.

Ireland, after 111 years of trying, finally beat the All Blacks and yet their reaction in victory was dignified, appropriate and infectious.

They won with outstanding good grace - somehow resisting the urge to over-congratulate themselves, yet also finding a kind of charming euphoria at the same time.

The All Blacks couldn't match them on the field, but they were their equal off it. Their pain would have been extreme. They have become used to winning and had their sights set on extending their record of consecutive victories and posting another perfect season.

But they were outplayed. They were out-thought. And they were second best on a day they so desperately wanted to show the United States what they were all about.

Yet they had nothing but praise for Ireland and brutal honesty about themselves.

There were no excuses about anything. There was no attempt to subtly allude to the effect of missing so many players at lock. There was no dwelling on the unfortunate injuries to Ryan Crotty and George Moala which left them with a makeshift midfield and forced them to put Ardie Savea on the wing.

There was only an equally dignified response of congratulating Ireland and vowing to do their best to close the gap when they meet again in a couple of weeks.

It was the sort of reaction such a monumental game needed. It was the right way for history to be made - respectfully and honestly. And it was a big step in reminding everyone that maybe it was time for things to be toned down.

It has been a year of insults and niggle off the field. The Six Nations had a bit of theatre in the build-up to big games and some verbal jousting that wasn't always respectful or fair.

There was more of that in June - a lot of that, in fact, when England played in Australia and were subjected to a few things that were way below the belt.

The Bledisloe Cup was marred by outbursts and insults and curious pronouncements, and just this last week, the pot was stirred further when Lions coach Warren Gatland chipped in with his thoughts about New Zealand fans.

A bit of theatre is to be welcomed, but you can have too much of a good thing. For the sake of variation, if nothing else, the warmth shown by the two sets of players and coaching groups at Soldier Field was powerful.

It was the sort of reaction that will help sell rugby to the world. It was the sort of reaction that said both teams have built their culture on strong foundations that allow them to be measured no matter the outcome and the sort of reaction that says rugby still has a soul.

- NZ Herald

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