Ireland poked the All Blacks bear and were made to pay dearly
Chastening day for Irish rugby as back-to-back world champions run riot
Ireland applaud the fans after their Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand in Tokyo. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
When you play New Zealand, especially in a World Cup knockout match, your execution has to be nigh-on perfect, you need to win key moments early on, you need a little luck and you need the All Blacks slightly off colour. None of these applied on one of the most chastening days Irish rugby has known.
Everything had been set fair for a big Irish performance, and the atmosphere beforehand when the 15-20,000 Irish supporters present drowned out the haka with The Fields of Athenry (okay, maybe not a good idea as the All Blacks don’t like their haka to be disrespected in any way) was spine-tingling.
But the first 10 minutes set the tone. The All Blacks’ line speed and tackle execution rattled Ireland’s running game, forcing spillages in contact by Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw. Meanwhile, Henshaw and Garry Ringrose clashed heads in tackling Ardie Savea, the latter going off to have 18 stitches in being replaced by Jordan Larmour, whose pace actually saved a try after Earls’ fumble in contact.
Not only did the All Blacks make 18 line breaks to two, but Ireland even struggled to get over the gain line.
The first-half might have assumed a different tone had Jacob Stockdale held on to his attempted intercept, which instead conceded the game’s opening three-pointer. Stockdale partially redeemed himself when reclaiming Johnny Sexton’s restart on what was the high point of a poor day for the winger.
The brilliant Kieran Read, whose tackling, carrying and handling in the central channels was almost the equivalent of a third playmaker, afterwards pretty much said Ireland’s game hadn’t evolved since beating them last year. The offload tally of 14-3 indicated as much.
By contrast, the All Blacks’ attack seemed like a video game compared to Ireland’s, such was the speed of their ruck ball and the passing of their heartbeat Aaron Smith. In addition to the quality of their passing and the timing of their runs, they constantly moved the point of attack and played a lot off Richie Mo’unga or, when he stepped in, the virtually unmarkable and unplayable Beauden Barrett – the Lionel Messi of rugby.
Ireland tried to push up hard from the outset but, increasingly forced into soaking tackles, they hardly made a bit hit in the entire game.
To be honest, Ireland did well to keep the All Blacks tryless for all of 13 minutes, as it felt like the die had already been cast by the time Smith sniped for his first try. Every error was being punished and of 17 Irish turnovers, there were half a dozen handling errors in that defining first 32 minutes.
At 10-0 down, Ireland might have generated some momentum from an attacking lineout maul, though given the way the All Blacks stymied this Irish life source, maybe not. However in attempting to extract every metre from his penalty to touch Sexton’s kick was brilliantly kept in play by Richie Mo’unga. Video research was done there.
Instead, when Tadhg Furlong fumbled James Ryan’s tap down from a Rory Best throw, the All Blacks outflanked Ireland’s blitz defence off the ensuing scrum. Stockdale was badly at fault, as he would be for the All Blacks seventh try, when first missing George Bridge and then conceding a penalty advantage for offside when attempting to put pressure on Smith and also vacating the blindside for the scrumhalf’s second.
It didn’t help that, once again, few of Ireland’s big players performed. CJ Stander’s numbers were again exceptionable – and Peter O’Mahony, at least stemmed with two of Ireland’s best moments in that first-half horror show, albeit he conceded a damaging reverse penalty with the last play of the first-half.
Furthermore the backrow were dominated, the props and Iain Henderson hardly figured, Conor Murray and Sexton did not influence the game and Henshaw looked off the pace. Robbie Kearney crowding Sexton’s space in the build-up to Beauden Barrett’s killer turnover try, after the outhalf’s wraparound had created space for Keith Earls and Stockdale out wide, summed up Ireland’s performance.
On this chastening day, the other sobering thought was that even if Ireland had been at their best, they probably wouldn’t have beaten the All Blacks in this mood anyway.
Ireland had poked the bear not once, but twice, and in every utterance afterwards it was clear that this was a serious source of motivation for the back-to-back champions, while also prompting them to redesign their game. For Ireland, there was no solace in that.
Scoring sequence: 6 mins Mo’unga pen 3-0; 14 mins Smith try, Mo’unga con 10-0; 20 mins Smith try, Mo’unga con 17-0; 32 mins B Barrett try 22-0; (half-time 22-0); 48 mins Taylor, Mo’unga con 29-0; 61 mins Todd try, Mo’unga con 36-0; 69 mins Henshaw try, Carbery con 36-7; 73 mins Bridge try, Mo’unga con 41-7; 77 mins penalty try 41-14; 79 mins J Barrett try 46-14.
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain).
Replacements: Scott Barrett for Cane (40 mins), Ofa Tuungafasi for Moody (48 mins), Angus Ta’avao for Laulala (48 mins), Sonny Bill Williams for Goodhue (52 mins), Brodie Retallick for Todd (56 mins), Aaron Smith for Perenara (60 mins), Dane Coles for Taylor (60 mins), Jordie Barrett for Reece (62 mins). Sinbinned: Todd (77 mins).
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Jordan Larmour for Ringrose (4-9 mins), Jordan Larmour for Henshaw (21-26 mins), Tadhg Beirne for Henderson (48 mins), Dave Kilcoyne for Healy (48 mins), Jordan Larmour for Kearney (52 mins), Rhys Ruddock for O’Mahony (56 mins), Andrew Porter for Furlong (60 mins), Niall Scannell for Best (62 mins), Joey Carbery for Sexton (62 mins), Luke McGrath for Murray (73 mins).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).