New Zealand underlined their status as the team to beat at this World Cup as the ruthless champions made light work of what was supposed to be the toughest of challenges against Ireland and roared into the semi-finals with a vintage display.
Seeking a third straight global title, the All Blacks registered seven tries to put away a side that had beaten them on two of the three previous occasions they had met.
Here were the champions flexing their muscles as they scored three times in the first half, with a sniping double from their brilliant scrum-half Aaron Smith and a breakaway from full-back Beauden Barrett. After the break, hooker Codie Taylor and replacement flanker Matt Todd also ploughed over.
Billed as the team with the best attack in New Zealand against the outfit with the meanest defence, Ireland, it was actually the All Blacks who demonstrated the most potent defending, ripping into the green shirts with real venom, missing only one tackle in the first half.
As for their attacks, it appeared to still be in a different league to everyone else’s in the tournament as backs and forwards alike handled with remarkable facility and fluidity to set up a mouth-watering semi-final with England, who had earlier beaten Australia 40-16 in Oita.
New Zealand started like a team famished by their two-week break since they overwhelmed Canada and Namibia. The question had been whether they would be rusty or just ready. Immediately, it was obvious it was the latter as they defended with rare belligerence.
The nearest Ireland came to any sort of early joy was when Jacob Stockdale came to a fingertip away from an interception but was ruled to have made a deliberate knock-on, allowing Richie Mo’unga to kick the opening penalty.
As the All Blacks hurled two or three tacklers into each phase, Ireland’s attacks were invariably suffocated at source and after a series of sustained New Zealand attacks, a gaping hole appeared in the Irish ranks allowing Smith to flit through and beat the despairing late tackle from Rory Best, above.
Suddenly, the All Blacks were in full attacking cry. At one point, Sam Cane chucked in a basketball pass and Sevu Reece went on a meandering flit across the pitch and after George Bridge was freed to plough down the left wing only to be brought down just before the line. Smith’s opportunism allowed him to pick up the scraps and burrow over again.
Johnny Sexton, absolutely Ireland’s key, was having a tough time, his penalty kick to the corner being acrobatically kept in play by brilliant Mo’unga and then hit hard in the tackle by Reece, who booted the spilt ball on so that Beauden Barrett could race through, hack on and pile over for a third try.
With just over half an hour gone, the game seemed over – a remarkable occurrence considering that only four points had separated the teams in their last four meetings. The All Blacks went in at half-time 22-0 ahead.
Any hopes of a second-half fightback were quickly extinguished when captain Kieran Read powered into the line and offloaded for Taylor to score. Then Todd went over after another superlative cross-kick had found Reece.
It was a signal for Best to depart the scene after his distinguished career but he could barely bring himself to acknowledge the thunderous applause from the big Irish contingent.
He will have at least been proud of how his men kept battling and after Robbie Henshaw had failed to touch down with the line at his mercy, the centre went over moments later with a sniping attack. Still, the All Blacks weren’t finished, another dazzling offload from replacement hooker Dane Coles putting in Bridge for another magnificent score. Still, Ireland kept battling and referee Nigel Owens awarded them a penalty try.
It was fitting that the final word should go to the rampaging All Blacks, who finished the rout with Jordie Barrett blitzing over in the corner to seal Ireland’s biggest World Cup defeat. It marked the end of an emotional time for the Barrett boys, who provided their own fitting tribute to their grandfather who had died earlier in the week.
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Source – RugbyWorldCup