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Three moments where Ireland could, and should, have beaten New Zealand

Ireland’s defeat to All Blacks at Stade de France deprived Bundee Aki of a player of the tournament campaign

When individual moments define a tight contest, multiple forces are often at play. Luck, opposition brilliance and individual errors all factor in. During Ireland’s quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, all three combined.

The headline moment was one of opposition brilliance. Much discussed, given it came late in the game, Jordie Barrett’s ability to hold up Ronan Kelleher at the back of a maul was a supreme display of physicality and willpower, though some will criticise the hooker’s inability to finish.

For luck, look no further than Dan Sheehan. It may be forgotten given it occurred in the 47th minute, an eternity before the dramatic endgame, but the bounce of the ball is all that cost him a try in a four-point defeat.

Holding a wide position when chasing a pinpoint crossfield kick from Mack Hansen, a more favourable bounce would surely have seen Sheehan score in the corner. Instead, the ball bounced higher than anticipated, over Sheehan’s head, and into touch.


Kicking wide to exploit a narrow defensive line with the All Blacks down to 14 was a clear ploy. Just two minutes earlier, Ireland had a clever set-play off a lineout. The All Blacks often hide their outhalf, Richie Mo’unga, in a wide defensive position. Ireland looked to exploit this, using the tactic in a surprise move after just one phase inside the 22.

Peter O’Mahony, normally excellent in the air, held his width to compete. It was a size mismatch. O’Mahony got in the air well, comfortably outjumping the diminutive Mo’unga. A clean catch would have led to a score. Instead, the ball slipped through his fingers as he attempted to gather, GAA-style, with both arms fully extended.

Three moments that could, and arguably should, have led to scores. All Black brilliance, a marginal error and even lady luck, they all conspired against Ireland.

Bundee at his brilliant best

It is not top of the list of moments filed away under ‘what could have been’, but Ireland’s defeat deprived Bundee Aki of the chance to rubber-stamp what would likely have been a player of the tournament campaign.

With five tries across the tournament, Aki equalled the Keith Earls’ Ireland record at World Cups, set in 2011.

Aki was also the fulcrum of Ireland’s first line of attack. So often the first phase carrier or front door option in a pod, he was the battering ram that created space for those behind him.

During the pool stages, Aki made the most carries (61), most metres (567) and beat the most defenders of any player in the competition. To give others a share, he was only second for line breaks.

On Saturday, he continued his career-best run with game high 20 carries. Of his 68 metres made (third most for Ireland on the night), a staggering 48 came after contact. Defenders could not stop him, no more so than his brilliant individual try. Taking a poor pass above his head, Aki stepped inside past two defenders and powered his way through multiple more. Of the seven defenders Aki beat, the most of anyone in the match, quite a few came on that play alone.

Lest we forget Aki’s breakdown turnover inside the New Zealand 22 when Ireland were chasing the game late.

He won’t get the accolades and awards due to the defeat, but his was arguably the greatest individual campaign from an Ireland player at a World Cup.

Dickson gets it right

Another day, another refereeing incident to discuss. On this occasion, the time is right to praise an official for keeping his cards in his pocket.

During Wales’ defeat to Argentina on Saturday, the decision to not even penalise, let alone brandish a card to Guido Petti caused consternation.

Referee Karl Dickson, who of course was only on the park because original official Jaco Peyper injured his calf/Achilles, opted not to penalise the Argentinian secondrow when he made contact with Nick Tompkins’ head on a clearout.

As all good secondrows do, Petti saw a chance to smash the opposition outhalf, Dan Biggar, in a ruck and targeted his midriff. He was bent at the waist and duly made significant, but legal, contact.

The problem was he went through Tompkins’ head on the way there, a separate collision driving the Welsh centre into the firing line.

Warren Gatland said that he “would need to go back and have a look at it, I probably think it’s at least a penalty situation”.

Dickson, for his part, rightly recognised Petti’s legal contact with Biggar, his low positioning and the late movement of Tompkins representing an impossible factor to react to.

As Dickson could be heard saying on the ref mic: “Every head contact isn’t foul play, that’s how I see it.”

Number: 31.1

Ireland’s expected points in the quarter-final, according to Opta. New Zealand? 24.2. One side was clinical, the other wasn’t.


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