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Ireland must be aggressive in attack if they are to have any hope of causing seismic shock against the All Blacks

Main man: Johnny Sexton is a key figure for Ireland
Main man: Johnny Sexton is a key figure for Ireland
Andy Farrell

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ireland have the best defensive record of any team at this World Cup. They only conceded two tries in the pool stages, had the best tackle percentage of any team and missed fewer tackles than all other sides.

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Yet when defence coach Andy Farrell was asked about what it would take to beat the All Blacks, he spoke about the need to score points rather than keep them out.

The former dual-code international would know. He's coached three different sides to wins over the world champions - England in 2012, the Lions in 2017 and Ireland in 2016 and last year.

"You've got to score points," he said. "There's no doubt about it.

"You've got to take your game to them and I think we've been able to do it in the past. Whoever has beaten them of late has taken their game to them. But they're a pretty formidable side. You have to play your own game and score points because there's no doubt they will."

When they beat the All Blacks for the first time, Ireland hit the 40-point mark on a remarkable day in Chicago. Two years later, they got to 16 points and held the world champions to nine.

That's unlikely to be enough in a World Cup quarter-final. In 2015, 23 was the lowest winning points total in the four last-eight clashes, with New Zealand managing 62 when they demolished France in Cardiff.

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Ireland have scored 18 tries in their four games to date at this tournament - 12 against Samoa and Russia - and they have shown an ability to start games strongly.

That was an issue in the Six Nations, but in Japan they have managed to score seven tries in the opening quarter of their matches.

Against Japan, they let that early advantage slip but across Joe Schmidt's time in charge they have been comfortable front-runners.

When contemplating the prospect of taking on New Zealand, senior players will speak of needing to keep playing and trying to create.

To do that, Ireland will need to engineer possession in good areas.

They remain a lineout-focused team, with eight of their tries originating from that set-piece.

By staying disciplined and refusing to put the ball into touch, England denied Ireland that access point in the Six Nations and they struggled badly.

When Ireland did get a lineout, England competed hard. New Zealand will have taken note.

Ireland need to be a lot more clinical in the opposition '22. Against Scotland, they left with tries on their first three visits to enemy territory and, while that is an unrealistic target, they must take every chance they get to put points on the board.

Against Australia, Wales showed the value of dropping the odd goal and, as Ireland struggle to penetrate over the course of their multi-phase sets in the opposition red-zone, they might consider dropping Johnny Sexton back into the pocket.

Although South Africa might have regretted not taking the points in their dominant opening quarter against the All Blacks, Ireland must recognise that their 2018 tactic of going through 20-plus phases is not working to the same effect.

Garry Ringrose's try against Japan was the longest number of phases they've had in the build-up to a score and, even then, that was a cross-kick from Jack Carty that came with penalty advantage and broke the hosts open.

Ireland need to take the odd risk and not just on penalty advantage.

It's noticeable that the top teams in Japan have waited for the referee's arm to go up before pushing the pass. Conor Murray's superb whipped ball to Jordan Larmour against Samoa is a prime example.

Ireland must be brave without being reckless.

Their wingers haven't contributed on the scoreboard yet, but their ability to get on the end of Murray's box-kicks has been a weapon.

Sexton is a key conduit, but Ireland have been more dangerous off No 9 in the tournament to date. Their out-halves have set up tries with the boot and Sexton has crossed the line twice himself, but none has laid on a try-scoring pass.

When he was asked about Ireland this week, All Black head coach Ian Foster said the Six Nations side are a smart, high ball-retention team. He is not expecting a barrage of kicking and says a lot of ball will go through Sexton's hands.

Foster and Steve Hansen are wary of the array of trick-plays Schmidt uses to try and get his team in behind the defensive line, with the boss even suggesting he's been laying traps for his opposite number.

Of course, their defence must be at its best, their physicality and ruck-efficiency must be top notch and their set-piece rock solid. And if all of that goes to plan and they get themselves into the scoring zone, they must make every visit count. Otherwise, they'll be on a plane home.

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