Another World Cup and another quarter final exit for Ireland. New Zealand followed Argentina’s lead by destroying Ireland’s defence in what was a very difficult final game for Rory Best and Joe Schmidt.
The intensity of the Kiwi defence from the start set the tone for the match and Ireland coughed up 18 turnovers with Ardie Savea and Sam Cane at the forefront, however there were a decent number of handling errors, brought on by the All Blacks’ defence.
Ireland were 17-0 down inside 18 minutes thanks to a brace from Aaron Smith. New Zealand were fortunate in the first try with Brodie Retallick coming in at the side and clearing out CJ Stander, which created quick ball and allowed Smith to exploit a slow defence. The second of these tries was preventable with two mistakes allowing Smith to dart over.
Ireland didn’t appear to have much of an attacking structure today. In contrast to New Zealand who were pinging the ball to the wings with ease, Ireland struggled to garner any zip on their passing. Static ball lead to a third try for the World Cup holders. A great hit from Sevu Reece dislodged the ball and allowed Beauden Barrett to hack through and canter across the line.
New Zealand punished Ireland’s indecision as it was one of the few occasions Ireland had an overlap and could have turned the Kiwi defence, instead Barrett crossed, putting the All Blacks 22 points up.
With Ireland needing a minor miracle in the second half, relentless pressure from the World Champions saw them run in another four tries. Ireland had to chase the game which was evident in the Matt Todd, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett scores.
Although the possession statistics were equal, there was a huge disparity in territory with 56% played in Ireland’s half. This was largely down to New Zealand pressure while Aaron Smith, his replacement TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo’unga keeping Ireland on their toes with little kicks in behind. Ireland had no option but to kick to clear as they couldn’t penetrate their defence.
Ireland were second best today by a long distance while some of the rugby New Zealand played was simple but extremely effective.
Where now for Ireland?
Back to the drawing board. Ireland have four years and a new coach in Andy Farrell to prepare for another assault on the semi finals. The offensive play this year has been disappointing, epitomized by New Zealand picking off their loops and inside passes with ease. When plan A hasn’t worked for Ireland this year, there’s been no plan B which has cost dearly.
For Joe Schmidt and Rory Best, they’ve been terrific servants to Irish Rugby. Schmidt took Ireland to another level through Leinster and the national team. Best hangs up his boots after 15 years in the professional game. With 123 caps for his country and 221 appearances for Ulster no one can doubt his commitment to the game and this was evident today when he was the supporting player to Jordan Larmour when New Zealand had kicked through. Best provided cover and helped seal the ball off for Ireland, relieving a bit of the pressure.
On paper there’s enough talent in this team – and waiting in the wings – to make the semi final in 2023. Hopefully Andy Farrell is coach that finally achieves this.