The All Blacks have put together an utterly complete performance in the second Rugby World Cup quarter-final, resulting in a resounding win over Ireland 46 points to 14.
A 22-0 halftime scoreline put New Zealand in great stead to go on with the job. Ireland were improved somewhat in the second half, but the result was never in doubt for the All Blacks, who will now have one eye on getting their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup for a remarkable third consecutive time.
Here are five talking points from the game.
All Blacks put together masterclass ahead of England showdown
The New Zealand masterclass against Ireland sets up an absolutely fascinating showdown with England in the semi-finals next week.
The English were very impressive in their quarter-final, defeating Australia 40-16. flyhalf Owen Farrell was in particularly fine touch. His upcoming battle with New Zealand counterpart Richie Mo’unga will be one for the ages.
But the All Blacks flexed their muscles too on Saturday night. They’ll be extremely tough to beat – even for a team in as good form as England.
Aaron Smith Sublime
It may seem obvious to some. But I just can’t get over how good Aaron Smith actually is. His skills, his smarts, his speed off the mark and his talk are all unbelievable – he’s truly one of the great halfbacks of all time.
Smith put in an hour of totally sublime rugby before being replaced by TJ Perenara.
He scored two solo-effort tries in the first half to single-handedly give the All Blacks the momentum after a tough opening ten minutes. He constantly put Ireland on the back foot with his kicking game, and he controlled his forwards like they were puppets on a string with his talk behind the ruck in both attack and defence.
It’s always an absolute pleasure to watch him play and marvel at his skill.
Quarter-final curse continues for Ireland
It was certainly a night to forget for the Irish. They have a pretty good record against the All Blacks (relatively speaking of course – no one has a good record against the All Blacks). But that didn’t prevent the All Blacks from inflicting upon them their largest-ever World Cup defeat.
There were plenty of signs that it wasn’t Ireland’s night. Usually-reliable flyhalf Johnny Sexton missed touch on two separate occasions with penalty kicks. It was clear from early on that they were struggling to match New Zealand’s pace.
In addition, this loss marks the continuation of Ireland’s quarter-final curse. The Irish have now lost six quarter-finals since the first World Cup in 1987 and have never every qualified for a semi-final.
This will be even more disappointing this time around, given they entered the 2019 World Cup as the world number one ranked side.
Disappointing end to a great career for Rory Best
When Ireland captain and hooker Rory Best came from the field late in the game, he looked a despondent figure. Devastated by the way in which his international career was coming to an end, it was clearly not the way he wanted to go out.
But after an international career spanning 14 years and 122 caps, the 37-year-old can look past this heavy defeat and reflect on what has been a wonderful career for his beloved Ireland.
Four Six Nations Championships, two Grand Slams and four Triple Crowns is one hell of a resume. His longevity in a sport like rugby and in a position like hooker is a testament to the man’s toughness and determination. Irish rugby will no doubt be worse off for his retirement.
Barrett backyard brilliance
It briefly looked like a penalty try to Ireland would be the final scoring play of the game. That was before two of the Barrett brothers got their hands on the ball and combined like they were kids playing in the back yard.
It was a wonderful moment for the family when younger brother Jordi came onto the field late in the game, marking a rare occasion when he and his two brothers Beauden and Scott were on the field all at once.
But it was even better when Beauden received a singing Richie Mo’unga cut-out pass and spotted brother Jordi unmarked out wide. He flung the ball to Jordi, who made a bee-line for the corner and dived over to score.
It’s always a pleasure to see brothers combine on such a grand stage as the Rugby World Cup. Let’s hope there’s more to come in this tournament.
What do you think Roarers? Any talking points I missed? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to tune in to The Roar’s coverage of tonight’s quarter-finals between France and Wales as well as Japan and South Africa.