Andy Farrell's world No 1s crashed out of the tournament after losing 28-24 to the All Blacks in Paris
You shouldn’t really be surprised. It’s the All Blacks. Time and time again they deliver, just this time it was different. It wasn’t meant to end this way for Andy Farrell’s Ireland but Ian Foster’s men clearly didn’t read the script and march on to face Argentina in next weekend’s semi-final.
The bare facts are the same as four years ago. Ireland lose to New Zealand to make yet another quarter-final exit. But the most galling fact from Saturday night’s pulsating Paris classic is that they never even led.
By no means did they choke, fighting back from 13-0 down after 20 minutes, but Ireland still have not been on top in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final since 1995. With the clock in the red they fought bravely on, nearly 40 phases inside the New Zealand 22. Until Sam Whitelock, who has made more appearances at a men’s World Cup than anyone else, delivered the final crushing blow winning a penalty that sunk Ireland’s dreams once again and ended Johnny Sexton’s career in the most painful fashion.
There was no full-time sing-along at the Stade de France as there had been against South Africa and Scotland. The Ireland fans resembled Zombies now, stunned into absolute silence. They are used to this pain but it was not a familiar feeling.
Ireland heartbroken in New Zealand quarter-final: As it happened
Before kick-off in Paris you could not find anyone with a semblance of connection to Ireland who was in any doubt that the men in green would get the job done. But write New Zealand off at your peril.
The All Blacks roared out of the blocks at the Stade de France surging into a 13-0 lead after just 20 minutes, hushing the hordes of Ireland fans bidding to see their team make a semi-final for the first time ever.
Just like they had against Scotland, Ireland’s herculean defence absorbed everything New Zealand could throw at them until, finally, after 30 bruising phases Tadhg Beirne was penalised for not rolling away and Richie Mo’unga’s penalty gave New Zealand the lead.
Coming into this contest Ireland had not led in a quarter-final since 1995 and soon had a mountain to climb. Jordie Barrett’s mega boot put the All Blacks 6-0 up from halfway before brother Beauden’s midfield dink to himself got the attack firing.
The ball made its way out to the left wing where a neat one-two between Leicester Fainga’anuku and Rieko Ioane saw the former score the game’s opening try. Mo’unga’s impressive conversion made it 13-0 after just 20 minutes.
Who could have predicted that after the first quarter?
But Ireland, who have spoken so much about dealing with emotion and not getting knocked off their stride, fought their way back into the contest gallantly.
A Johnny Sexton penalty staved off the panic alarms and opened their account before Ireland’s best player at this tournament rose to the occasion. Bundee Ak barged his way through several tackles to score his fifth try of the tournament. The relief from those in green was palpable.
Sexton’s extras made it a three-point game but the pendulum swung back New Zealand’s way after a neat Will Jordan 50:22 took them downtown. Jordan then found Ioane who quickly shifted the ball to Ardie Savea in space on the right wing and he dived spectacularly over the line for a finish his brother Julian would have been proud of.
Mo’unga could not stretch the lead to more than eight points and Ireland soon capitalised. Aaron Smith was sent to the sin bin for deliberately knocking on Mack Hansen’s attempted offload and Ireland kicked to the corner with a man advantage.
New Zealand’s maul defence stood firm but with no recognised scrum-half, Jamison Gibson-Park sniped and scored from close range. Sexton’s conversion dragged Ireland to within one point at the break as New Zealand went in 18-17 up.
Desperate to maximise their time playing against 14, Hansen’s boot was wreaking havoc. First he chipped a 50:22 before a cross-field kick just bounced too high for Dan Sheehan’s outstretched hands with the tryline begging out on the right wing. Try as they might, Ireland could not land the killer blow.
Back Smith came and so did New Zealand. Richie Mo’unga stormed past the attempted tackle of Josh van der Flier and passed to Will Jordan who was never going to be caught. Route one and a fifth try of the tournament for the winger.
Jordie Barrett took over the kicking duties and slammed a humdinger of a touchline conversion to give the All Blacks a two-score cushion at 25-17.
An uncustomary miss off the tee from Sexton was soon forgotten when Ireland’s rampaging maul was illegally hauled down with Wayne Barnes awarding a penalty try. Codie Taylor the guilty party marched off for ten minutes and there was just one point in it once again.
Somehow a seven-man All Blacks pack won a scrum penalty but Jordie Barrett erred off the tee. Criminally Conor Murray’s push on the No 12 gave him the chance to immediately atone for that error, which he duly took, kicking New Zealand 28-24 ahead with 11 minutes on the clock.
Ireland threw the kitchen sink at the All Blacks in the dying stages, but they stood firm to move two wins away from yet another World Cup title.