Ruthless New Zealand crush Ireland’s Rugby World Cup hopes
Joe Schmidt’s tenure comes to an end with error-strewn hammering in Tokyo
The quarter-final glass ceiling remains firmly intact. In truth, it never looked like being touched, much less breached, during the course of this utterly one-sided affair. After this record Rugby World Cup defeat, never has a semi-final seemed so far out of reach.
So much for the theory, based more on hope and past evidence rather than evidence, that Ireland would produce a big performance. Rocked early on by the quality of the All Blacks start, Ireland were well below par.
Errors abounded, typified by Johnny Sexton (twice) and Joey Carbery missing three penalties to touch, and 17 turnovers were repeatedly punished by the ruthlessness of the back-to-back champions, whose lines of running, timing of the pass, sheer pace and footwork were nigh on uncontainable.
For all their X-factor out side, their diminutive scrumhalf Aaron Smith was the sniper-in-chief with the first two tries, while Kieran Read was magnificent in all he did, which was plenty.
One telling stat was the tally of 16 offloads to two. No prizes for guessing which team made the 16.
By contrast, Ireland’s attacking game never looked like penetrating the fast line-speed and tackle execution of the All Blacks’ defence. Their supremacy was all-encompassing. Even the Irish maul couldn’t make any inroads.
Having spent much of the last four years trying to atone for the quarter-final defeat by Argentina four years ago, this was an awful way for the Joe Schmidt era to end, and ditto for the captaincy of Rory Best who, to his credit, put in a big shift, as did Peter O’Mahony and Garry Ringrose. But these were crumbs, never mind morsels.
Thousands more members of the Green Army had clearly managed to swap their tickets. Even The Fields of Athenry was special, drowning out the Haka. But they were pretty much quietened by the almost jaw-dropping tempo and quality of the All Blacks.
Beauden Barrett kicked off and Ryan managed to deflect the ball back before Sevu Reece knocked on. The suspicion and hope was that Ireland had a few new trick plays up their sleeves, and from this first set-piece Murray went blind to Jacob Stockdale who switched back inside to Sexton for the outhalf to cross kick for Earls.
It was a little underdone and George Bridge gathered before being tackled by Earls. As the All Blacks began to settle into their attacking groove, there was a big moment, relatively speaking, when Stockdale attempted to intercept Mo’unga’s skip pass for Reece, but knocked on one-handed. Instead of a try at the other end, Mo’unga landed the resulting penalty.
Stockdale did well to reclaim Sexton’s restart but in an ominous portent of things to come, the All Blacks’ line speed and accuracy of their tackles forced a spillage by Earls when hit by Jack Goodhue and Bridge kicked ahead.
Jordan Larmour, briefly on for a bloodied Robbie Henshaw, saved the moment with his pace, helped by Henshaw and Best quickly working back to make the clearout. But the breakthrough wasn’t long in coming.
When Henshaw knocked on in a double hit by Anton Lienert-Brown and Sam Cane, Ardie Savea charged into the Irish ‘10’ channel from the scrum. Ireland held out the first All Blacks siege when Rob Kearney covered Goodhue’s clever chip, but from the moment Lienert-Brown gathered Codie Taylor’s over-throw a try almost seemed inevitable.
Half a dozen phases later, after big carries by Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read, a gap was partly created by Cane’s illegal side entry - which, admittedly, has been permitted with abandon at this World Cup - and the distance between Henderson and Best. As sharp as a razor, Smith sniped through it to score by the posts.
The game turned irretrievably on a couple of moments nearing the end of the first quarter. First, Sexton aimed for the corner from outside the All Blacks 10 metre line, but will have wished he went for a little less as Mo’unga athletically tapped the ball back infield. Under pressure at a lineout, Tadhg Furlong fumbled James Ryan’s tap down. From the scrum, the All Blacks outflanked Ireland’s blitz defence when Goodhue deftly pulled the ball back for Reece, sweeping behind from the opposite wing, and fed Bridge. He beat Stockdale on the inside, and the Irish winger compounded his error when, in attempting to put pressure on Smith at the base, he not only conceded a penalty advantage for offside but left the blindside vacant for Smith to snipe over again.
Healy went for a big play which would have given Ireland a badly needed try when stealing from the base but Nigel Owens decreed the ball was “not clearly out”. It was a marginal call, but it would have been either way.
Every error was being punished and the All Blacks’ line speed in defence effectively earned them another try. Ireland were actually putting together a promising attack when Sexton created space out wide with his wraparound, but Kearney’s line almost made him collide with his outhalf.
Sexton’s attempted transfer was knocked to the ground by Reece’s tackle. Mo’unga kicked ahead and Barrett sped in to caress the ball toward the line while on the run, gathering to score.
Recourse to the TMO offered no respite, as Reece’s head had hit Sexton’s arm rather than the ball, which meant Mo’unga was onside.
When Murray tried a wraparound with Ryan and knocked on, it was Ireland’s sixth handling error of the first half. Soon after Healy knocked on Sexton’s bullet of a pass which clearly wasn’t intended for the prop but, in about their only error of the half, Mo’unga overcooked his penalty to the corner.
The Irish fans were finally given something to cheer when Sexton kicked a penalty to the corner in first-half overtime, but the maul again hardly budged an inch and when Sexton was about to kick to the corner for a tackle off the ball on Healy, it was overturned by Owens and his TMO Graham Hughes for O’Mahony’s entry on a prostrate Whitelock at a ruck.
Any tiny error was magnified by the unrelenting quality of the almost error-free All Blacks’ attacking game.
And so it continued in the second-half, Stockdale putting a foot in touch when gathering a Mo’unga kick up the line. Five minutes of remorseless attacking followed before Read took a double tackle by Furlong and Henderson to pop the ball off the deck for Taylor to score.
And on and on. Sexton’s second missed penalty to touch eventually led to another try. The All Blacks maul steamrollered up the pitch and Beauden Barrett crosskicked to the livewrire Reece. Todd crashed over from Smith’s pass off the recycle.
After Best bowed out and Joey Carbery replaced Sexton, Ireland finally managed to hammer at the All Blacks for the first time in the match. Initially, Henshaw couldn’t complete the touchdown from Carbery’s grubber, but the centre did straighten through under the posts from CJ Stander’s switch pass after his charge off the scrum.
The All Blacks quickly punished this minor temerity when Ardie Savea plundered a turnover at a ruck, ran hard and offloaded from Dane Coles to put Bridge over.
There was another consolation score in the shape of a penalty try and a yellow card for Todd after illegally preventing Stander from grounding the ball against the post.
It prompted some cheering from the Irish supporters, but there was no celebrating on the pitch, and in any case the All Blacks had the final say when Beauden Barrett put brother Jordan over.
Some beating. A proper beating.
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).