Ireland smashed by seven-try New Zealand in Rugby World Cup quarter-final as Rory Best's career ends on sour note
New Zealand 46-14 Ireland
Four years of planning to avoid the same disaster that befell them at this stage in 2015 and with a quarter of the game gone, Ireland were losing a World Cup quarter-final 17-0...just as they had been against Argentina in Cardiff.
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The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A 46-14 humbling, just another one for the collection at this competition.
There were no excuses this time around. Well, none bar the quality of the opposition which in itself was a result of throwing away control of the pool with the loss to Japan. Against the Pumas, Ireland were decimated by injury. This, in Tokyo, was the team that Schmidt built. Or at least they used to be.
Twice in this cycle they've beaten the back-to-back World Champions, both times with precise, accurate and error-free rugby, in between they won a Grand Slam and a series in Australia.
But once again this performance brought to mind an adjective so rarely used to describe Schmidt teams during his ten years in Irish rugby - sloppy. The Ireland careers of Rory Best and Joe Schmidt brought to a close long before the final whistle.
Four handling errors and a missed touch over the first 20 minutes of the game loomed large as the All Blacks ruthlessly exposed Ireland's deficiencies. The game was over before it ever had the chance to sparked into life.
Ireland were, for the seventh time in a row at a World Cup quarter-final, left to wonder what might have been.
Jacob Stockdale, whose game when these two last met showcased so perfectly the fine balance between success and failure, was almost away for his first World Cup try and an Irish lead only minutes into the game but this time the bounce went against him. Rather than an intercept where there'd have been no catching him, it was a knock-on and the chance for Richie Mo'unga to make it a 3-0 game.
Rory Best is withdrawn and that's the end of a stunning career. 🙌🏻— Ulster Rugby Round-Up (@URRoundUp) October 19, 2019
344 combined Ulster and Ireland caps. ⚪️🔴☘️
Thanks for everything Rory 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻#NZLvIRE updates ➡️ https://t.co/oMpaPbdjW7 pic.twitter.com/gZ40QP6GkD
Ireland were lacking the precision required and, denying themselves any foothold, were on the back foot.
When Aaron Smith sniped in behind the Irish line from only five metres out, a ten-point deficit felt huge in the context of the stage.
In what was dubbed the biggest game of this group's career, too many were misfiring, a missed touch by Sexton after Codie Taylor was caught tackling James Ryan off the ball proof that even the most key performers were well below the mark required of such an occasion.
It wasn't long after that Smith was over again, this time darting through a gap vacated by an offside Stockdale.
Error after error, it was another handling mistake that saw Beauden Barrett over on the half hour mark, Sexton losing the ball in contact and the Kiwi full-back inevitably winning the ensuing footrace. Mo'unga's missed conversion felt the first misfire from the merciless back-to-back champs.
Peter O'Mahony offered brief flashes of resistance, stealing a lineout and winning a breakdown penalty but, the indiscipline he showed in an illegal ruck entry that ended both Ireland's first sustained period of pressure and the first-half were typical of the day.
Even the most optimistic of Irish supporters will have believed their side needed the next score but that too went to the All Blacks, Kieran Read, who prolonged his own Test career with victory, offloading for Codie Taylor to crash over. Another fine try.
A score for Matt Todd followed, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett too. In between were Ireland's only scores of the day, one for Robbie Henshaw and a penalty try. By then it was nothing more than academic.
New Zealand go on to face England in Yokohama next week. A semi-final between what is surely the two best teams in the world. All that awaits the beaten side in Tokyo a long flight back to Dublin. When next we see them, the stage will be decidedly less glamorous. There'll be no more Rory Best in the green jersey. And who knows when or where we next see Joe Schmidt.
The end of an era. He leaves as Ireland's most successful ever rugby coach. Even he couldn't change their fortunes on the biggest stage of them all.
IRELAND: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (c), T Furlong; I Henderson, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander.
REPLACEMENTS: D Kilcoyne (for Healy, 48), T Beirne (for Henderson 48), J Larmour (for Kearney, 52), R Ruddock (for O'Mahony, 56), L McGrath (for Murray, 60) A Porter (for Furlong, 62), N Scannell (for Best, 62), J Carbery (for Sexton, 62)
NEW ZEALAND: B Barrett; S Reece, J Goodhue, A Lienert-Brown, G Bridge, R Mo'unga, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, N Laulala; B Retallick, S Whitelock; A Savea, S Cane, Kieran Read (c)
REPLACEMENTS: S Barrett (for Cane, 40), O Tuungafasi (for Moody, 48), A Ta'avao (for Laulala, 48), SB Williams (for Goodhue, 52), M Todd (for Retallick, 57) D Coles (for Taylor, 60), TJ Perenara (for Smith, 60), J Barrett (for Reece, 63)
Referee: N Owens (WAL)
Man of the Match: B Barrett (NZ)
Here's the game as it happened:
Belfast Telegraph Digital