Dublin, Paris: Ireland captain Rory Best says beating Australia 27-24 and other results going the Northern Hemisphere countries way suggests the void people had spoken about between them last year has been filled.
The 34-year-old — whose side became the first Northern Hemisphere side since England in 2003 to beat all three Southern Hemisphere teams (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) in a calendar year — added he was extremely proud as a patchwork Irish side, three key backs had gone by half-time replaced by players who had to play out of position, had somehow eked out a victory.
The Irish had seen a 17-0 advantage evaporate with the Australians taking the lead after an hour only for Keith Earls to grab a third try for Ireland and Paddy Jackson convert it.
“It’s obviously a pretty big achievement to do that and with so many players who have played in those games is a good sign of our ability and depth,” said Best, referring to Ireland’s achievement.
“Especially after the World Cup last year when it was said there was a big void between north and south (all four semi-finalists were from the southern hemisphere).
“We feel we can compete with all the best teams now and since Joe [Schmidt, the head coach] has come in it has been about consistency and we feel we have shown that consistency.”
Best, who has done his chances of captaining the British and Irish Lions on the daunting tour of New Zealand next year no harm at all, said he had been especially proud to win his 100th cap with such a bunch of teammates.
He was, though, quite surprised to hear that his father had been overcome with emotion before kick-off.
“I hope you have got my father being emotional on tape because I haven’t seen it in 34 years,” joked Best, who walked out in front of the 51,000 spectators accompanied by his two young children.
“We talked about a squad ethic and to lose guys early in the week [Jonathan Sexton and Robbie Henshaw] and then Sean [O’Brien, a key flanker] on the morning of the match you just hope the replacements will step up.
In Paris, World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett helped stretch New Zealand’s winning streak over France to 10 games with a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable 24-19 victory.
The victory rounded off an incredible year for the All Blacks, the team having notched up 13 wins in 14 matches as well as taking the Rugby Championship title with two rounds to play, and also equalling the record unbeaten streak of 18 games, started in 2015.
The sole hiccup came at Irish hands in Chicago when they went down 40-29.
“It was a very tough game, I’m proud of my men for sticking it out for the win,” said New Zealand skipper Kieran Read.
“When we started at the start of year if you’d said we finish with one loss we’d be happy.
“It’s been a fantastic year to be part of.”
Having avenged their defeat by Ireland with a 21-9 return win in Dublin last week, it was also back to business at a packed Stade de France.
The last time these two teams met, it was embarrassing, France going down 62-13 in the quarter-finals of last year’s Rugby World Cup.
But the visitors were made to work for victory this time, Barrett scoring an intercept try and converting that and two other tries by Israel Dagg and Charlie Faumuina, as well as booting one penalty.
Tonga 19 Italy 17
Scotland 43 Georgia 16
Fiji 38 Japan 25
Romania 36 Uruguay 10
England 27 Argentina 14
Wales 27 South Africa 13
Ireland 27 Australia 24
New Zealand 24 France 19