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Rugby World Cup: Five things we learned from Ireland’s loss to the All Blacks

You need to have some luck against New Zealand, Mack Hansen’s injury came at a bad time just when Ireland needed a cutting edge in attack

Hansen’s injury robbed Ireland of a potent threat

Mack Hansen and Bundee Aki were the two players on the night that had some cutting edge for Ireland to their ball-in-hand running. Aki was the more physical runner and used, maybe too often by Ireland, to gain hard yards in centrefield, where New Zealand were usually well set up. Aki played an excellent game anyway, but Hansen is a different type of runner and glides between narrow spaces. His injury towards the end of the match was an enormous loss, especially the way the endgame panned out. Hansen was the perfect player to summon up something from his locker in that 37-phase finish. By then the Irish players were tiring and needed something that could unlock a tight All Black defence. Hansen might have been that in the dying minutes when play was all towards the New Zealand end and an injection of pace, a change of direction, a little bit of creative spark was all that was needed to unlock the wall of black.

Sexton has left a legacy of faith in Ireland’s ability

Although Ireland lost the match, one of Johnny Sexton’s parting gifts to whoever replaces him, probably Jack Crowley, is the gift of having confidence in the team. Years ago, Sexton would have been under instruction to kick the early penalties and get the scoreboard moving for Ireland. There would be an argument that he should have done that anyway as New Zealand sped to a 13-0 lead. But he didn’t and by half-time Ireland were within a point of their opponents at 18-17. He had the confidence to kick and use the lineout, which again was not strong. But he persisted (Ireland earned a second-half penalty try from a driving lineout maul), which is a newly-minted trait in Irish rugby, a level of confidence in their game that has faith in the players around to be able to bring their game to a match. A legacy perhaps.

All Blacks have enduring ability to produce something out of nothing

New Zealand, even under pressure, are a dangerous team and had the quality of player to pick up on wrinkles in the Irish game. Their dominant back row made life difficult for some standout Irish players and the stats show that, with New Zealand winning 10 turnovers to three for Ireland. But Will Jordan’s try, set up and converted by Richie Mo’unga, will probably hurt most. The All Black winger, who scores an average of almost a try a game, managed to score from almost nothing, and deep in the New Zealand half. Ireland were caught shooting up fast but who would have thought they could be such a try-scoring threat from so deep? The All Blacks did. Beaudan Barrett’s sublime chip and collect was another piece of trickery that impacted leading to the try on the left from Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Ireland’s inability to punish New Zealand’s indiscipline proved costly

The New Zealand forward Ardie Savea was in phenomenal form all night, putting in an incredible amount of work and getting his name on the scoreboard too. He had the most carries for New Zealand, 15 in all, and he made the most dominant tackles for them with two (only James Lowe had more with three). Savea said after the match that he “didn’t really notice” his team going down to 14 men twice during the game, which was also a commentary on Ireland’s inability to punish the All Blacks for cynical play. They competed for 20 minutes while a man down but Ireland, not once, were able to take the lead in the match. We can pick and choose areas all over the pitch that could have been better, but two yellow cards without seriously hurting the opposition was a poor return.

Ireland lacked the rub of the green on the biggest occasion

There is a factor that doesn’t always get aired when playing in a World Cup quarter-final and that’s the element of luck. For a game against the All Blacks, luck is an important ingredient. Not fluke and not an act-of-God type of intervention, but common everyday luck – like the bounce of the ball when it was cross-kicked to Dan Sheehan with the hooker steaming down the right wing. The ball landed and took a vicious kick right and too high for Sheehan. Like Ronan Kelleher getting over the line in the second half with a pile of New Zealand bodies around him but being just held up (it was good defending by New Zealand certainly). But the Gods favour a team, or not, on any given day. On Saturday night in Stade de France, luck may have turned it.