An utterly dominant display by world champions New Zealand overwhelmed Ireland in Tokyo and set up a semi-final encounter with England in Yokohama

The forecast rain did not turn up but a big black cloud did. New Zealand are never more menacing than when they are portrayed as vulnerable, but they left Ireland scattered all over the turf after ruthlessly battering them up front in an awesome display of power and precision to set up a semi-final against England.

The two head coaches stood on the halfway line while their teams were warming up, casually chatting for more than five minutes as if a knockabout were about to start rather than a World Cup quarter-final. New Zealands Steve Hansen was in a suit, like the rest of his management team, while Joe Schmidt was kitted out, like the rest of his coaches.

Therein lay a difference. Ireland went through a number of drills with their coaches armed with whistles. The All Blacks merely warmed up, throwing passes and running into tackle-bag holders while their coaches watched, largely, from afar, as if taking a mere passing interest. The difference between school and university?

Two victories in their three previous matches against New Zealand had given Ireland something stronger than hope as they strived to win a first knockout match in a World Cup. The All Blacks had not lost to a team that was not hosting the tournament since 1999 and they had picked a back division that between scrum-half and full-back was short on international experience.

The selection ensured that Irelands gaze was on the wrong target. The All Blacks did play with width, but not before entering the belly of the beast and eviscerating their opponents. Irelands game is based on territory and possession, but they had neither as New Zealands forwards charged into their opposite numbers with controlled ferocity, clearing out rucks so quickly there was no chance for Ireland to slow down possession.

New Zealands opening two tries, scored by the scrum-half, Aaron Smith, came after rucks when Ireland ran out of numbers. The first followed a succession of forward drives, each taking out defenders with the ball-carrier supported and gaining metres each time until it reached a point where there was no guard at a ruck near the line and Smith seized his chance.

The second followed a scrum move with Sevu Reece coming into midfield on the left from his wing and as Keith Earls came inside to tie him out, the ball was moved to George Bridge who rounded Jacob Stockdale and Robbie Henshaw only for Earls to prevent the try.

Three New Zealand backs were first to the breakdown and when Stockdale, guarding the blindside, went early and had to retreat, Smith stole over on the blindside.

Ireland had dictated the pace of the game in Dublin last November and kept their try line intact. Their suffocating defence narrowed the All Blacks attack and made them play behind the gainline where they were hunted down, while in possession they made ground by dominating contact.

Here, New Zealand defended both sides of the ruck and denied Irelands ball-carriers momentum. For all the improvisation of their backs, with Beauden Barrett running amok, the foundation was laid by their forwards, led by Kieran Read, who took on Ireland at their strongest point and destroyed them.

Irelands game so unravelled that even Jonathan Sexton was flustered, missing a penalty kick to touch; two more were to follow from Joey Carbery, and flicking a careless pass to Rob Kearney after 31 minutes. Anton Lienert-Brown hacked on the loose ball for Beauden Barrett to follow up, kick it closer to the line, pick up and score the try that effectively settled the match.

It gave New Zealand a 22-0 lead they took into the interval after Peter OMahony wasted his sides best attacking position of the opening half by charging into a ruck shoulder first. Ireland needed the break to sort out their heads their centres Henshaw and Garry Ringrose had theirs bandaged up after colliding as they both attempted to tackle Ardie Savea but the All Blacks started the second period in the same mean, determined mood, adding to their lead through tries by Codie Taylor and Matt Todd that again showcased their ability to manoeuvre space.

Ireland knew their record of failing to win a World Cup knockout match was going to be carried forward to 2023, but they kept going and Henshaw, after failing to ground the ball over the line after Carberys chip, scored from a scrum.

New Zealand responded through Bridge before Ireland were awarded a penalty try after Todds professional foul on the line that earned him a yellow card.

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The All Blacks said amen through Jordie Barrett two minutes from the end to leave Ireland with the send-off for Schmidt and their captain, Rory Best who was so choked up with emotion before the match that he was unable to sing the Irish anthem they had dreaded.

Such was the throng of Ireland supporters and the noise they generated, drowning out the haka with Fields of Athenry, that it seemed more like Dublin than Tokyo, but the All Blacks, with the calm detachment that they now bring to a World Cup, single-mindedly rose above it all and England have it all to do in Yokohama next Saturday.

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Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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