Irish eyes crying not smiling as All Blacks show their mettle
Ireland’s 17-Test winning streak came to an end against the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup 2023 quarterfinal.
Call it a jinx, call it a curse, call it a hoodoo. Call it whatever you want – at the end of the day it all boiled down to more Irish heartache.
Eighty minutes of thunderous quarterfinal rugby in a Paris cauldron ended with Ireland once again at the World Cup exit, vanquished 28-24 by New Zealand. It was the eighth Rugby World Cup quarterfinal for the Irish. And an eighth defeat.
“Sport can be cruel sometimes,” Ireland’s coach Andy Farrell said, as his skipper Johnny Sexton sat beside him, contemplating the start of retirement, tears glistening in his eyes.
The Irish had come into the contest as the world’s number one ranked outfit, riding a 17-game winning streak and their best chance of taking an unprecedented step into the last four.
But at the end, as the Stade de France stadium’s sound system bellowed out Molly Malone by the Dubliners, Ireland’s players were left staring into the skies. “Alive, alive-oh,” the speakers blared, but Ireland’s World Cup dreams were dead.
“It was a fantastic game to be part of,” Farrell said, searching for positives on such a devastating evening for the men in green. “And maybe fitting of a final. If you go out with a whimper, it’s pretty hard to take, and we didn’t.
“I’m just immensely proud of everyone connected with Irish rugby to be honest. I am unbelievably proud to be associated with it all. The sad thing is that for this group now, it is probably the end.
“Things are going to change. Over the next 24 hours it’s time to make sure we get a smile back on our face as soon as we can, and reflect on some amazing careers.”
One such career is Sexton’s. The 38-year-old has been Ireland’s talisman for many years.
“The last six weeks have been incredible,” he said. “It has been a dream come true for all of us and that includes today really. We showed the character of the team. You’ve got to work hard for fairytale endings and we didn’t get it but that’s life.
“We left no stone unturned, we ticked every box, trained the house down, and played pretty well tonight. A few decisions, a bounce of the ball … fair play to the All Blacks.
“How can you be prouder to be Irish? We [Irish fans] get behind the team like no other. It’s not wasted on us and that’s why it’s so hard to take that we couldn’t give them another couple of weekends but that’s sport, that’s life.
“This is the best group I’ve ever been part of and these lads will go on to great things, and I’ll be in the stands having a pint cheering them on.
“You can’t be 38 and sitting here giving out [complaining] … I will probably reflect more over the next couple of weeks.”
New Zealand show their mettle
When the Rugby World Cup reaches the business end, New Zealand are always in the mix and on Saturday Ian Foster’s team once again showed why they can never be written off.
The All Blacks started their campaign with a 27-13 loss to hosts France and in Saturday’s quarter-final at the Stade de France they faced a daunting task against Ireland.
Some were quick to forget that New Zealand, even if they had lost their two previous matches against the Irish, remain the game’s ultimate challenge.
Despite a shaky opening couple of minutes, the three-time champions were brutally efficient on the back of a barbed-wired defence to prevail at the end of a nerve-racking contest.
While Ireland made some poor choices – opting not to kick an early penalty, insisting on not going wide – the All Blacks converted almost every time they had a sniff of the line with tries by Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea and Will Jordan.
They kicked their early penalties, too, to take the score and Ireland were never ahead.
Andy Farrell’s side put their opponents on the backfoot, but New Zealand made 230 tackles and battled hard when they were down to 14 after Aaron Smith’s and Codie Taylor’s yellow cards.
It was quite fitting that the All Blacks wrapped up the victory having withstood a 37-phase Irish possession spell after the clock had turned red.
“Our ability to defend our line for 30-plus phases at the end, that’s huge,” captain Sam Cane said.
“The defence was outstanding tonight. We were able to hold them out for long periods and I think ultimately that’s what won it for us.”
Coach Foster also gave credit to his team’s heroic defence, and everybody knows that defence wins championships.
“Our defence, particularly in that last part, was brilliant,” he said.
“We were disciplined, we held our cool. I thought defensively we made some shifts and found a way of stopping their line breaks coming to us. It just became a game of patience in the end and we did it well.”
The result left Ireland outside the door to the semifinals once again, with the players walking around the pitch to salute their more than 60,000 fans looking groggy and dejected.
Sexton admitted that New Zealand’s efficiency was brutal.
“They sucker-punched us on a few tries and that’s what champion teams do,” he said.
“New Zealand are the best team at taking the game away from you,” added Farrell. Reuters/DM