By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission
The All Blacks are into the World Cup semifinals after a stunning blood-and-guts victory over Ireland at the Stade de France this morning – their 28-24 success sending them into a clash with Argentina.
On a cold evening in Paris, this match was played out in a red-hot atmosphere and a sea of green in the stands, the All Blacks surviving yellow cards to Aaron Smith in the first half and Codie Taylor after the break, plus a relentless finish by the Irish which took the game into the 84th minute.
It was an extraordinary performance from both sides, a match worthy of a final. As it is, Ireland, the world’s No.1 team, continue their mental block of never having made the final four of a World Cup.
They are a quality team led by a quality player in Johnny Sexton, but their first-five now leaves the international game without the biggest win he craved.
This victory, revenge for last year’s historic Irish series win in New Zealand, was built by an impeccable set piece – the All Blacks won three scrum penalties – and a defensive effort led in inspirational fashion by skipper Sam Cane and Ardie Savea.
Their front-on defence in particular halted the Irish momentum and their breakdown work was Irish-like – a true compliment these days.
But Ian Foster’s men also attacked intelligently and with canny variation, their kicking game in the second half getting them across the line, with Ireland unable to find the final answer despite getting extremely close at the end.
In a bizarre sidenote, all the try scorers were New Zealanders, with Leicester Fainga’anuku crossing first and Bundee Aki replying for Ireland. Savea’s try in the right corner was answered by Jamison Gibson-Park, with Jordan’s brilliant score after the break – set up by a piece of Richie Mo’unga brilliance, answered by a penalty try as Taylor was adjudged to have sacked the lineout drive.
After an emotional reply to the haka by Ireland, who formed a figure eight in honour of former Ireland player Anthony Foley, this Test caught fire quickly in front of a capacity crowd of 79,000.
The All Blacks would have been extremely happy with their start which, after a couple of wayward kicks, was notable for its accuracy on both sides of the ball.
Ireland initially defended impressively in repelling wave after wave of All Blacks attacks, with Mo’unga kicking his side ahead after a speculator to Jordan went slightly too far.
Ireland’s first attack produced a penalty, with Sexton electing to kick to the corner – a tactic he would repeat throughout.
James Lowe’s mistake on the touchline killed that momentum but it was starting to shift New Zealand’s way, with Cane’s huge tackle on the halfway line setting up a Savea penalty turnover which Jordie Barrett converted.
There was more. A long Lowe kick was turned into attack by Beauden Barrett who kicked, regathered, and the backline converted superbly – Jordie, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Rieko Ioane all handling before Ioane popped it back inside to Fainga’anuku.
At 13-0 up, the All Blacks were flying, but back came Ireland. Sexton chipped away with a penalty and then, from virtually nothing, Aki brushed off Ioane, Shannon Frizell and Tyrel Lomax on his way to the tryline.
Savea extended the All Blacks’ lead with a superb finish in the right corner after Will Jordan’s 50-22, and then disaster for the men in black – Smith sinbinned and Gibson-Park quickly taking advantage of his absence near the ruck to close it to within one point at the break.
After a half in which Cane and Savea led the way in terms of the All Blacks’ defence, Ireland’s comeback must have been deflating.
It didn’t appear so, though. A piece of brilliance from Mo’unga off a lineout just inside his own half sent Jordan to the tryline, with Jordie Barrett adding the very important extras.
Down by eight points, Sexton missed a relatively easy penalty in the 59th minute, but a penalty try put them right back in it.
A missed Jordie Barrett penalty was a potential blow, but he made up for it when converting a kick after Connor Murray pulled him back when he contested a bomb.
As the game entered the final nine minutes, the Irish drove for the line with referee Wayne Barnes declaring the ball to be held up – awarding the All Blacks the line dropout.
No.8 Caelan Doris dropped it cold to give the All Blacks a huge boost and they held on. Just. Their dream is alive and on this evidence so is the game.
They were underdogs here but will be big favourites to beat the Pumas at the same venue on Saturday morning.
All Blacks 28 (Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga pen, con, Jordie Barrett 2 pens, con)