Valiant Ireland left to ponder costly sinbinning of Farrell
Yellow card costs Ruddock’s side dearly against Baby Blacks
New Zealand 31, Ireland 26
In the end Ireland died with their boots on, forcing 11 phases of possession in the final play but the ball was lost and New Zealand, who have never failed to make the final, exhaled a huge sigh of relief and secured their berth in the semi-finals.
Ireland, still seeking a first win over New Zealand, were left to ponder on what might have been, especially an expensive sinbinning just before the break at a sun-drenched Stade de la Rabine.
The Baby Blacks, starting to gain an upperhand after an even opening half, turned the screw just after half-time and by the time Ireland try-scorer Thomas Farrell was back on the field, they were 15 points to the good. Indeed, they scored a fourth try to open a 31-11 lead after 56 minutes and Ireland looked set to suffer a heavy defeat. But this side is made of stern stuff and they regrouped, built the phases and slowly wore the Baby Blacks down.
The hard-working Dan Leavy got Ireland back in the game towards the end of the third quarter when he finished a good move involving Steve Crosbie and Rory Scholes. It got better for Ireland with over 10 minutes remaining when replacement prop Edward Byrne buried his way over after incessant Irish pressure.
Rory Scannell’s conversion left it 31-23 and he landed his third penalty to leave just a try between them less then 10 minutes from the end when a draw would have sent both teams through. But Ireland were unable to conjure that fourth try and New Zealand just did enough to hang on.
“I was really, really proud of the boys,” said Irish coach Mike Ruddock. “The yellow card cost us but the boys still regrouped and had a crack at them and in the end New Zealand were relieved to hang on. We are disappointed, we really believed we would win it, but we can take a lot from that performance.”
Ireland were on parity for most of the first half, gaining an upperhand in the scrum and New Zealand were fortunate not to have a man binned for persistent scrum infringements. But New Zealand always looked dangerous with ball in hand. They were keen to go wide as quickly as possible but Ireland kept it tight and drove through the middle with the excellent handling skills witnessed in the wins over Australia and Fiji.
Ireland got an early boost with Scannell, taking over the kicking duties from the injured Tom Daly, landing a penalty from 41 metres after 11 minutes.
Simon Hickey, whose limited range with the boot was out of sorts with the pace and strength of their backline, kicked two of four penalties before Scannell tied the match at 6-6 after 24 minutes after the Kiwis were again penalised at the scrum.
Ireland paid a big price when they lost a scrum and a lineout and the turnover ended with gigantic lock Patrick Tuipulotu scoring in the left corner after excellent work from skipper Ardie Savea and impressive winger Lolagi Visinia. But the Irish response was excellent with Farrell pouncing on a loose pass from Hickey to sprint over from distance in the right corner after 34 minutes.
The Kiwis regained the lead with another Hickey penalty but the key moment was the binning of Farrell for an infringement on scrumhalf Tayler Adams just before the break.
New Zealand led 14-11 at the interval but then pounded the Irish line after the restart with hooker Epelahame Faiva scoring the first of two tries in the left corner after 45 minutes. Visina got their third three minutes later before Farrell returned but the Baby Blacks looked out of sight with a 26-11 lead, pushing even further in front when Faiva got his second after 56 minutes.
But Irish skipper Luke McGrath rallied his men, their scrum dominance continued and with Gavin Thorbury winning some great lineout ball, they came storming back. In the end the Baby Blacks held on with skipper Ardie Savea, asked if the mood in the changing room was one of celebration or relief, summed up their feelings. “I think the boys are just relieved,” he stated.
The margin in the end could not have been tighter – England advancing by virtue of scoring 17 tries in a 109-0 rout of USA.
IRELAND: D Leader (Conn); A Byrne (Lein), T Farrell (Lein), R Scannell (Mun), R Scholes (Ulster); S Crosbie (Lein), L McGrath (Lein); P Dooley (Lein), G McGuigan (Newcastle), C Taylor (Uls); G Thornubury (Lein), J Donnan (Uls); D Leavy (Lein), J van der Flier (Lein), C Joyce (Uls). Replacements: D Sweetnam (Mun) for Byrne (34 mins), B Byrne (Lein) for McGuigan (49 mins), E Byrne (Lein) for Dooley (49 mins), P Timmins (Lein) for Thornbury (49 mins), R Murphy (Mun) for Joyce (67 mins), M Roche (Conn) for Crosbie (67 mins), D Shanahan (Lein) for McGrath (76 mins), A Boland (Conn) for Taylor (79 mins).
NEW ZEALAND: J Webber; P Latu, J Emery, M Collins, L Visinia; S Hickey, T Adams; D Brighouse, E Faiva, B Wiggins; P Tuipulotu, C Vui; J Manihera, A Sevea, J Edwards. Replacements: S Mafileo for Wiggins (h-t), N Grogan for Brighouse (63 mins), H May for Manihera (67 mins), D Brighouse for Latu (71 mins), S Scrafton for Vui (71 mins).
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales).