So the second quarter final of the weekend. Ireland, have played at 10 World Cups and this is their 8th quarter final game. New Zealand has also played at 10 World Cups and this is their 10th quarter final game. Which team would go on to glory and can Ireland bust their hoodoo of not getting past this stage?
Both teams were able to field their top teams, with players coming back from injury in time to take to the field for this game. New Zealand had a slight shuffle with Mark Telea not available for selection due to breaking team protocols. While he probably would have played if available, Fainga’anuku was pushing hard anyway and there were calls to have him start from a lot of people. Personally, I think Telea would’ve started had he been available but he didn’t meet the standards set by the team and paid the price for that. Let’s hope it’s a lesson he has learnt.
Just WOW! Although speaking from a biased view, that has to be one of the best games of rugby I’ve seen in a long time. Both teams gave it their all and it almost, only almost, feels that neither deserved to lose this game. There was some great play by both teams and some classy post match speeches from both sides. This game proved to me why this game of rugby is just the best game in the world when it’s played and officiated well. A huge credit to the officials for this game. I thought they were bang on in most of their decisions and I don’t think they got any of the big calls wrong. Some may have looked a bit dodgy depending on which team you were supporting at the call, but at the end of the day the game was allowed to flow and the spectacle was fantastic.
New Zealand started strongly, taking the penalty points on offer and building a lead through some ill discipline from the Irish. In particular the Irish scrum received a few penalties for wheeling and driving to the side, not straight. Scrum penalties can be a bit contentious at times for two reasons. Firstly, there’s always so much going on that it’s hard to really be sure of what was happening. And secondly, because we as the viewers get such a limited picture that we don’t always understand the ruling. However, I thought in these cases the officials got it spot on and the calls were correct.
The game was very tight with some huge defence from both sides and some big hits that almost came through the TV. Ireland pulled back 3 with a penalty and then in the 18th minute NZ struck. A bit of Beauden Barrett magic with a little chip kick that was gathered and then from the break the ball went quickly to the left wing and through five sets of hands before a try in the corner that was converted.
Eight minutes later is was Ireland’s turn with a beautiful run from Bundee Aki where he went through at least three tackles to score. A huge try that was converted by Sexton. Some great play by both sides and then NZ struck again after some big build up work where Sam Cane in particular took the ball up well, the ball went wide to Ardie Savea who scored in the corner. At 36 minutes Aaron Smith stuck his hand out to stop a pass and was given a YC for a deliberate knock down. While he was off the field Ireland took advantage of the defensive gap at a line out and Gibson-Park ran through the hole to score. Sexton again converted the try.
The first 10 minutes of the 2nd half was a huge battle with both teams going from end to end as first NZ then Ireland took the ball up deep, only for the defence to hold and the other team to go hard down the other end of the field. At 52 minutes Richie Mo’Unga made a huge break stepping inside a couple of tired forwards and then giving a lovely pass to Will Jordan who raced away to score in the corner. A great conversion for Jordie B saw NZ back 8 points ahead in the game.
At 63 mins with Ireland hard on attack with a line out drive, Cody Taylor was given a YC and a penalty try to Ireland for collapsing the maul. Back to a one point game and both teams giving it their all. At 66 minutes Jordie Barrett missed with a penalty, but was redeemed a bit later with Conor Murray pulling him out of a kick contest and this time he was able to get the points. 28 to 24 to the All Blacks
The last 10 minutes of this game had Ireland hard on attack with NZ defending well. Ireland gave it everything with lineouts and hard driving mauls. However, with some absolutely fantastic AB defence they just couldn’t find a way through. Ireland had possession at the 80 minute mark and after 38 phases, and four minutes into overtime, Sam Whitelock, in his 151st game, got the critical turnover and NZ was able to kick the ball out and win the game.
The Game Changer
For me there were two game changes in this match. Firstly, the AB defence was just outstanding. They were clinical and relentless in getting back into line and taking the Irish players down. Despite two YCs their discipline was fantastic and they were patient and composed. Ireland just struggled to find a way through. Secondly, when the chances came they just pounced. The ability of the players to switch from defence into attack so fast is a real strength and one that Ireland struggled with.
The Man of the Match/Stand out players
Ardie Savea was the official MotM but for me Sam Cane was outstanding. He stepped up into this game and while not having the go forward that Savea had, his defence was outstanding. He also stepped up well as a leader, talking to the players and calming them down when they threatened to get carried away. Both Richie Mo’Unga and Beauden Barret were outstanding and proved that while form may be temporary class is permanent. The reserves who did come on stepped up and kept things going. Sam Whitelock with his turnover and ALB was massive in defence.
For Ireland I thought Doris was outstanding with some big runs and big hits. Tadhg Beirn was also massive with a lot of big carries and clean outs. Hansen and Lowe were good on the wings and Bundee Aki hit the ball up hard all day. I thought his try was an outstanding display of rugby.
So NZ go through and once again Ireland fail at the quarter finals. A huge upset for some and while the draw was good for some teams, this game really showed how badly mismatched the draw has been. I really feel for Ireland, they played a fantastic game and it was only small margins that got the ABs through the match. I thought the ABs were fantastic. Their defence was outstanding and their ability to quickly switch into attack when the chances come is a real plus for this team and their reserves came on and kept the momentum going. The big challenge for NZ will be to not lose focus and take Argentina lightly next week. I do believe they can go all the way and I’m still picking a France v NZ final in two weeks’ time.