'It doesn't get better than this': Sexton savours Ireland's history-making series win over All Blacks

'It doesn't get better than this': Sexton savours Ireland's history-making series win over All Blacks

IRELAND captain Johnny Sexton has been savouring Ireland's 'special' win over the All Blacks, which secured a first series victory in New Zealand.

Ireland lost the opening test two weeks ago only to draw the series with their first ever victory on New Zealand soil last week.

The expected backlash from the All Blacks finally came in the second half of Saturday's third and final test in Wellington after a dominant opening period from Ireland.

Johnny Sexton relishes Ireland's victory (Image: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The hosts cut a 19-point half-time deficit to just three in the final quarter, but a Rob Herring try, converted by Sexton, sealed a famous 32-22 win.

That led to exuberant celebrations from the visitors, something Sexton said showed just what the famous victory meant to the players.

'Special group'

"It doesn't get much better than this. It's the biggest respect we can give New Zealand," said the captain.

"The celebrations probably were not the most humble but that shows how much it means to us.

Tadhg Furlong congratulates Josh van der Flier on scoring Ireland’s opening try (Image: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

"We came here with the Lions and we thought it was great to get a draw and the guys that felt we should have won were criticised, so to come down here and do it, it's just very, very special.

"It's a special group led by Faz (Andy Farrell) of course and it's great to be a part of."

Ireland out of the traps

Farrell had predicted a backlash after last week's stunning 23-12 win in Dunedin, but it didn't materialise in the first half.

Josh Van Der Flier touched down from the maul as Ireland's pack drove forward after just three minutes.

Jordie Barrett responded with a penalty 20 minutes later but it was to be the All Blacks' only score of the half.

Hugo Keenan scores Ireland's second try (Image: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Minutes later, James Lowe found Hugo Keenan after some neat interplay with Mack Hansen and the Leinster man sprinted away before going over for Ireland's second.

Sexton converted and added a penalty before Robbie Henshaw touched down after clinical passing from Dan Sheehan and Sexton.

Sexton again converted to make it 22-3 at half-time but converted tries after the break from Ardie Savea and Akira Ioane dragged the hosts back into it.

Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland's third try against New Zealand (Image: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sexton gave Ireland some breathing space with a penalty on 55 minutes to make it 25-17.

However, when he missed another minutes later and then Will Jordan immediately went over for the All Blacks to make it 25-22, Ireland's series dream was under serious threat.

Fortunately, Farrell's men remained composed and replacement Herring broke off from the maul to touch down, with Sexton's conversion giving Ireland a 10-point lead as they saw out the game.

'Fine margins'

Sexton said he feared the worst after seeing his penalty hit the bar shortly before Jordan's try but added that the reaction was a testament to the players' resolve.

"I just felt it was an important kick and then for it to come off the crossbar, I was gutted," he said.

"It was a big swing but it just shows the character of the team to be able to come back from that.

Rob Herring celebrates with James Lowe, Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson Park after scoring Ireland’s fourth try (Image: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

"They're the moments that in previous years against New Zealand would have swung the game and they're the fine margins that we would have been talking about if we'd lost.

"But thankfully we got the penalty straight away and then it was big a call to go for the corner again and the lads backed it up."

'Let's keep getting better'

Sexton conceded the history-making series victory will raise expectations before next year's World Cup in France.

However, he stressed the importance of not resting on their laurels, with the tournament still over a year away.

"There's plenty more to play, there's big home games in November, there's a Six Nations to play where we still haven't achieved things that we wanted to achieve," he said.

Ireland fans cheer their side during the third test in Wellington (Image: Joe Allison/Getty Images)

"We had a Triple Crown this year but a Championship or better would be something that we're aiming for — there's no reason why we shouldn't be trying to progress and do that.

"It's very Irish to think we have to take it easy now until the world Cup — no, let's keep making the most of it, let's keep getting better.

"That has to be driven by me as captain and the rest of the leadership group to turn up and show the right attitude in September when we're back playing for our provinces and keep getting better.

"That's the key."