Rugby World CupMatch Report

Ireland’s dream dies in Paris as All Blacks secure World Cup semi-final spot

Three-times champions move on to semi-final meeting with Argentina after Stade de France thriller

Ireland 24 New Zealand 28

The dream has died once more, and as this Ireland team had dared us to dream more than any of its nine predecessors at World Cups, yet another quarter-final defeat felt worse than ever.

They threw everything at the All Blacks and more, but ran into an unrelentingly defiant and proud opponent. Ireland’s passing and handling skills weren’t always at their sharpest, and they never quite looked as comfortable or as assured as they had in their previous 17 wins on the spin.

Yet some of their attacking play was brilliant, and they constantly stretched the All Blacks defence right until a remarkable 37-phase attack with the last play of the game. There were some towering displays, not least from Andrew Porter despite a couple of questionable scrum penalties against him.

Jamison Gibson-Park had a fine game, Johnny Sexton bowed out after bravely pulling the strings for 80 minutes, making 76 passes, and alongside him Bundee Aki kept doing his thing and making metres after contact.


There’ll be the usual frustration with Wayne Barnes’s performance and the TMO Tom Foley decreeing Richie Mo’unga’s shoulder into Aki’s jaw wasn’t worthy of at least a yellow card. But Ireland always seemed a little discomfited by the occasional insecurity of their lineout and the manner in which the All Blacks won the early collisions and went after Ireland’s breakdown.

On the back of their early ascendancy in the collisions and the breakdown, the more ruthless All Blacks also scored early and drew first blood to lead 13-0, so augmenting the momentum and confidence gained from their three facile pool wins. The All Blacks’ backrow were superb. Ardie Savea was, it has to be said, utterly immense and Sam Cane rolled back the years to typify the All Blacks’ resistance with a towering defensive display.

It was fit for a final. Ireland have now been involved in probably the two best games of the World Cup and go out as possibly the best team ever to lose in the quarter-finals. But as Richie McCaw observed this week, sometimes quarter-finals can be harder to win than finals, and Irish rugby teams certainly know that better than anyone.

The mood was set by the kind of cracking pre-match atmosphere which befitted the occasion. The Irish players aligned themselves into two circles and the figure of 8 in a reprise of their homage to Anthony Foley before the breakthrough 2016 win in Chicago.

The Irish crowd drowned out the haka with a rendition of The Fields, which admittedly provided uncomfortable echoes of the same happening in Tokyo four years ago before the All Blacks quickly sapped the ardour of the Irish fans.

Although Ireland’s defence held firm through a 30-phase All Blacks attack with relative comfort, Tadhg Beirne was pinged for not rolling when trapped by Ethan de Groot and Mo’unga opened the scoring.

Ireland responded well, Sexton floating a beauty to Garry Ringrose on the edge before opting for the corner when Savea went off his feet but after going wide surprisingly early James Lowe fractionally over-ran Hugo Keenan’s offload.

The All Blacks were winning the collisions with some big hits and causing Ireland problems at the breakdown, as manifest when Aki shipped a short pass to Caelan Doris, who was hit hard by Cane before Savea won the penalty in the jackal as Aki and Josh van der Flier failed to shift him off the ball.

Jordie Barrett landed the 50-metre penalty and worse followed for Ireland when Mo’unga fielded a long clearance by Lowe on the full and fed Beauden Barrett. As he does, the fullback countered, spotted space and located with a neat chip before regathering. From the ruck, the All Blacks found space on Ireland’s right edge, Reiko Ioane popping the ball back inside for Leicester Fainga’anuku to score.

Mo’unga’s conversion made it 13-0 and the All Blacks had the early jump start to augment their recent three-game glut of tries.

Still, when Shannon Frizell barged Keenan as he chased Sexton’s restart, it handed Ireland a dumb three points and Mo’unga ought to have been at least sinbinned when catching Aki with a straight shoulder to the jaw.

It was only replayed once, to a cacophony of boos, and presumably on the advice of TMO Foley, Barnes informed an incredulous Sexton that “there was nothing in it”. An astonishing piece of officiating.

As their handling sharpened after an iffy start, so Ireland’s attack began to probe more and more, Mack Hansen linking with Dan Sheehan, who showed stunning footwork. A few phases later, Lowe came off his wing to feed Aki, who gathered the high ball and also beat Ioane and Frizell with wicked steps and fended Savea for a stunning score.

Back came the All Blacks, forcing a loose tap from Doris at an Irish lineout which led to a 50-22 by Will Jordan and having punched close to the Irish line off the ensuing lineout, Ioane’s quick hands enabled Savea to finish in the corner.

But Ireland still kept probing and finding gaps and when Hansen broke through the black line and passed inside for Gibson-Park, Aaron Smith deflected it to the ground with an extended arm, so receiving a yellow card.

Twice Sexton went to the corner against 14 men, and from the second of the attempted catch-and-drives, Gibson-Park sniped, dummied and stepped inside Jordan before going under Savea to score. Sexton’s conversion made it a one-point game at the break.

After attacking cross kicks by Gibson-Park and Hansen eluded Peter O’Mahony and Sheehan on the right wing, a big Irish defensive set was complemented by Porter’s steal as Ireland turned defence into attack before Savea was awarded a jackal penalty by Barnes, after he had been particularly slow to give same to Ireland in the previous attack.

Worse for Ireland, off the ensuing lineout, Smith fired quick off the top ball from Brodie Retallick in to Mo’unga, who beat Van der Flier’s flailing arm to break clear as Finlay Bealham, just on the pitch, stayed back to create the gap. Mo’unga drew Keenan and put Jordan over, also converting.

This was compounded by that rarity, a missed Sexton penalty from about 40 metres out, but another brilliant break – Keenan steaming on to Lowe’s pass – led to a penalty to the corner, Sheehan hitting Beirne and as the drive rumbled toward the line it was pulled down by Codie Taylor, leading to a penalty try, a yellow card and a one-point game again.

Having missed one penalty Jordie Barrett played for and earned another when failing dramatically after contact by Conor Murray as Keenan took a high kick, and this time made it 28-24.

A key moment came in the 72 minute after Sexton beat a couple of players and Murray chipped through before Ringrose’s chasing earned a penalty to the corner. Again the pack rumbled over the line but Kelleher was prevented from grounding the ball by Jordie Barrett.

Digging deep into their reserves of character, skills and lung power, Ireland somehow kept the ball through 37 punishing phases from inside half to inside the All Blacks’ 22 before eventually couldn’t execute a clearout for a 38th time. It was somehow both brave and defiant and yet futile, while also punishing.

Ioane, in a classless gesture, put his finger to his lips while looking at the Irish crowd, and then felt compelled to bid farewell to Sexton.

The lap of recognition for the remarkable Green Army was conducted to the soundtrack of I Will Survive, which didn’t seem apt at all.

So much joy along the way in an unprecedented Irish sequence of 17 wins yet ultimately the same old quarter-final laments, which only made this one feel the worst of all.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 8 mins: Mo’unga pen, 0-3; 14: J Barrett pen, 0-6; 19: Fainga’anuku try, Mo’unga con, 0-13; 23: Sexton pen, 3-13; 27: Aki try, Sexton con, 10-13; 33: Savea try, 10-18; 39: Gibson-Park try, Sexton con, 17-18 (half-time 17-18); 54: Jordan try, J Barrett con, 17-25; 64: Ireland penalty try, 24-25; 69: J Barrett pen, 24-28.

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Finlay Bealham for Furlong (53 mins); Jimmy O’Brien for Hansen (57); Joe McCarthy for Henderson, Jack Conan for Van der Flier (both 59); Conor Murray for Gibson-Park (61); Ronan Kelleher for Sheehan (65); Dave Kilcoyne for Porter (76). Not used: Jack Crowley.

NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Leicester Fainga’anuku; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ethan de Groot, Codie Taylor, Tyrel Lomax; Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett; Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (capt), Ardie Savea.

Replacements: Sam Whitelock for Frizell (60 mins); Tamaiti Williams for De Groot, Fletcher Newell for Lomaz, Anton Lienert-Brown for Fainga’anuku (all 64); Dane Coles for Retallick (65); Dalton Papali’i for Cane (75). Not used: Finlay Christie, Damian McKenzie.

Yellow cards: Smith (37 mins), Taylor (64).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times