All Blacks produce stunning performance to oust Ireland from RWC 2023
The All Blacks advanced to the Rugby World Cup 2023 semi-finals with a 28-24 win over Ireland in Paris.
Ireland 24 (17) New Zealand 28 (18)
Heroic, absolutely heroic, there is no other way to describe the effort by both New Zealand and Ireland. This instant classic of a match will echo through Stade de France as long as the stadium stands.
The All Blacks found something deep in their DNA in the final four minutes as they repelled 36 phases of Ireland pressure with the latter searching for a winning try.
It never came, as the All Blacks defence held firm in the face of brilliant continuity from Ireland. Players were almost out on their feet as the final seconds counted down like decades for the All Blacks.
Somehow, somewhere, the men in black found the resolve to hold firm and move into the semi-finals where they will meet Argentina.
This was the All Blacks’ best performance since Ellis Park in 2022, possibly even better.
The pack stood up with outstanding contributions everywhere while the Barrett brothers in the back – Jordie and Beauden – as well as Rieko Ioane and Richie Mo’ounga were brilliant.
Ireland had no shortage of otherworldly performances either, from prop Andrew Porter (in the loose), lock Tadgh Beirne to centre Bundee Aki and fullback Hugo Keenan. It just wasn’t enough.
For Ireland it was another gutting quarterfinal exit – the eighth time at this stage – but this was no choke. They were beaten by a slightly better team in a match where both sides produced a performance for the ages.
Sport is cruel and it was agonising that one side had to lose after the effort, commitment, skill and courage both sides displayed.
The All Blacks had been written off and players such as captain Sam Cane questioned. They and he answered the critics emphatically. Who would write them off now. Winning the whole thing is more than a possibility – it’s a good probability.
Ireland’s ghosts of quarterfinals past made an early appearance as the No 1 team in the world found themselves in depressingly familiar territory at this stage of the competition – in a big hole.
Seven previous quarterfinal defeats was a lot of baggage to carry into the contest and when the All Blacks ran into a 13-0 lead after 18 minutes, despite some promising play from Ireland, the game was already slipping away.
Lesser Irish teams would simply have folded at that point against the All Blacks. But this is not a lesser Irish team and they kept scrapping and taking the battle to the All Blacks.
By halftime the momentum had shifted and Ireland were just a point behind with All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith in the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on. The game was still well and truly alive.
It was a high quality contest from the outset. After a jittery start by the All Blacks, which saw two loose passes from Smith and two poor kicks – one a penalty touch finder from Richie Mo’unga followed seconds later by a woefully short up-and-under, New Zealand settled.
They found their way into Irish territory and for four spellbinding minutes they tried to break Ireland’s defence. The Irish defended 29 phases in that period and eventually conceded a penalty for slowing the ball.
The All Blacks came away with three points, but it sent a message that they would have to work for every point.
The match swung back the other way as Ireland gained a foothold, but for most of the first 25 minutes they lost the breakdown battle and their lineout misfired again.
Those shortcomings cost them dearly as New Zealand were able to escape their own half thanks to Ireland’s largesse. And the All Blacks being the All Blacks, know how to make a side pay for mistakes.
New Zealand demonstrated their ruthlessness when a poor clearance kick found Beauden Barrett with space and time in his own half. The great man ran forward, chipped and collected just outside Ireland’s 22-metre area.
Despite being clattered by wing James Lowe, the ball went left where the All Blacks had small overlap. Leicester Fainga’anuku scored from what might have been a marginally forward pass by Rieko Ioane. It stood.
Ireland were in huge trouble not playing badly. After spurning an earlier penalty, preferring to kick for touch, the next penalty in kicking range, Johnny Sexton went for poles and put them on the board.
Centre Bundee Aki then sent the majority Irish crowd into raptures when he finished off a multi-phase build-up with some great stepping to score Ireland’s opening try.
Suddenly they were back in it until a familiar mistake hurt them again.
The Irish lost another lineout inside New Zealand territory and All Black wing Will Jordan produced a 50/22 kick to give the All Blacks possession deep inside Irish territory.
From the ensuing lineout, the All Blacks went left and then back to the short side, where No 8 Ardie Savea scored in the corner to reclaim some daylight.
Ireland refused to wilt though and just before halftime scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park darted over from a lineout close to the All Black line. It was a move that started after Smith’s yellow card. Sexton converted and the game was on.
After the break the match was a grind, in the best possible way. New Zealand delivered another moment of magic when Mo’unga took the ball at pace 60 metres out and stepped through flank Josh van der Flier, made 35 metres and offloaded to Will Jordan on his shoulder.
But Ireland kept coming and when they were awarded a penalty try from a five metre lineout after the All Blacks collapsed the maul with 16 minutes to play, the dream was alive.
Hooker Codie Taylor was also sin-binned for sacking the maul and it really was advantage Ireland. But New Zealand’s brilliant defensive work and work rate was sensational and instead they earned two long range penalties.
Jordan Barrett missed one, but landed another to stretch the lead to four points. It meant Ireland needed a try to win and they thought they had from a lineout maul, but Jordie Barrett somehow got under the ball carrier.
It summed up, in an instant, the margins that defined this great game. DM
Ireland – Tries: Bundee Aki, Jamison Gibson-Park, Penalty try. Conversions: Johnny Sexton (2). Penalty: Johnny Sexton
New Zealand – Tries: Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea, Will Jordan. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga. Jordie Barrett. Penalties: Mo’unga, Jordie Barrett (2).