Irish rugby’s most memorable moments of 2016

Jamie Heaslip after Ireland's historic win over New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago

Jamie Heaslip after Ireland’s historic win over New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago

2016 was a year that brought some of the most memorable highs and heart-breaking lows to the world of Irish rugby.

The Irish squad stumbled into the six nations, still drowsy from the World Cup hangover and reeling from their knockout defeat to Argentina in the quarter finals.

After suffering losses to France and England in the competition it looked as though Joe Schmidt’s infallible tactics were losing their sparkle.

However, the year was far from over for Irish rugby.

 

 

 

Connacht win their first ever Pro 12 title 

 

Connacht rewrote history in May with an incredible win over Leinster in Murrayfield to secure their first Pro 12 title.

Pat Lam’s side, led by John Muldoon on his 275th cap for the province, beat Leinster by 20 points to 10, despite the four time Pro12 champs crawling back from 15-0 at half time.

Ireland and Leinster star Luke Fitzgerald hangs up his boots

In June Leinster, Ireland and Lions star Luke Fitzgerald announced his retirement from professional rugby with at the age of 28.

He was advised to retire on medical grounds after suffering a neck injury in the Guinness PRO12 final against Connacht.

The wing, centre or full-back won 34 Ireland caps and toured South Africa with the 2009 British and Irish Lions.

Fitzgerald made his Leinster debut in 2006 and went on to make more than 150 appearances for them, scoring 32 tries.

He helped the Dublin-based outfit win the Heineken Cup three times and land three PRO12 titles.

He first featured for Ireland almost 10 years ago, following in the footsteps of his father Des, who also won 34 caps, but Fitzgerald's career was also affected by various injury setbacks.

Ireland beat the Springboks for the first time on South African soil 

Ireland were shaken, but not stirred, when they went down to 14-men following the sending off of CJ Stander during the first leg of Joe Schmidt’s side’s tour of South Africa.

Ireland stood firm and despite spending ten minutes playing with a 13-man squad following the sending off of Robbie Henshaw, they held South Africa to a historic 26-20 victory in Cape Town.  

Munster hero Anthony 'Axel' Foley tragically passes away

The news of the passing of Munster behemoth Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley sent shockwaves to Irish and International rugby.

42-year-old Foley, died suddenly in Paris prior to Munster’s Champions Cup clash with Racing 92.

The Limerick born back row made his debut for Munster in 1995 and went on to earn 202 caps for the province.

He played for Ireland 62 times, captaining the national team three times.

The Maori All Blacks paid homage to Foley ahead of their game with Munster at Thomond Park in November.

They placed an All Black jersey with the initials 'AF' in the centre of the field before performing their Timatanga Haka.

Munster feel a resurgence in form at Thomond Park, spurred on by the memory of Foley 

Still reeling from the death of Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley, Munster put on a performance reminiscent of the side’s glory days, as they trampled Glasgow Warriors 38-17 in Thomond Park.

Joe Schmidt signs new contract with IRFU

In October Joe Schmidt signed a new contract with the Irish Football Rugby Union (IRFU) to continue on as Ireland head coach until the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Schmidt has guided Ireland to back-to-back Six Nations titles in two of the last three years, since he took over in 2013 and this news would come as a huge boost.

The 50-year-old's current deal runs until next June but an extension has long been on the table. Ireland's backroom team are already signed up until after the next World Cup and now they can continue their preparations as a unit. 

Ireland beat the mighty All Blacks

On the 5th of November Ireland ended a 111-year hoodoo as they beat the New Zealand All Blacks in Chicago's Soldier Field. 

The men in green were well worth their win, eschewing their kicking game to ground and pound at the home of the Chicago Bears, while dominating an understrength New Zealand pack at set-piece time.

The world champions fought back from 30-8 down to make it a one-score but the Athlone native's try sealed it, ending New Zealand's 18-game winning streak.

Ireland were brilliant with Rob Kearney giving his critics something to chew on with a fantastic display as Conor Murray had the game of his life.

The pack were dominant, the discipline was good and when the storm inevitably came they held their nerve.

 

Ireland complete calendar-year victories over the southern hemisphere's big three

Ireland put a stop to Australia’s northern hemisphere Grand Slam hopes as they beat the Wallabies 27-24 in the Aviva Stadium.

The injury-ravaged side became the first European team since 2003 to complete calendar-year victories over the southern hemisphere's big three by fending off Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in 2016.

Ireland lost Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne to injury in a bruising contest, having entered the clash without late withdrawal Sean O'Brien.

Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose and Keith Earls claimed Ireland's tries, while Tevita Kuridrani, Dane Haylett-Petty and Sefanaia Naivalu crossed for the Wallabies.

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