Three-time champions New Zealand inflicted more World Cup heartbreak on Ireland on Saturday, beating them 28-24 to bring a bitterly disappointing end to Irish captain Johnny Sexton’s stellar career.
The All Blacks avenged a historic home series defeat at the hands of Ireland last year, taking their chances when they had them in clinical fashion at the Stade de France.
The defeat ended Ireland’s run of 17 successive Test victories and denied Andy Farrell’s team the chance of a first ever semi-final.
The All Blacks turned on the pressure early on, pounding away at the Irish line and it told as referee Wayne Barnes awarded them a penalty — Richie Mo’unga slotted it over for 3-0.
The All Blacks moved into a 6-0 lead near the quarter-hour mark as Jordie Barrett landed a superb long-range penalty from just inside the Irish half.
MATCH CENTRE NEW ZEALAND VS IRELAND
Ireland did pierce the New Zealand defence on a couple of occasions but their discipline let them down and it was their opponents who were turning their chances into points.
They moved into a 13-0 lead after a superb move resulted in Leicester Fainga’anuku — who was only in the lineup due to Mark Telea’s breaking of team protocol — touching down.
There was a hint of a forward pass from Rieko Ioane but the try stood and had the New Zealand coaching team out of their seats punching the air in ecstasy.
Mo’unga converted from the left touchline.
The Irish needed something and sensibly Sexton, when offered the chance, took the points, converting a penalty for 13-3 in the 23rd minute.
Sexton and Barnes had an exchange when Mo’unga’s high tackle on Bundee Aki was judged OK — the latter was to hit back in the best way possible.
The Irish were right back in the game as the clock ticked towards the half-hour mark. James Lowe’s long pass found Aki who took it high but still managed to break through several tackles and touch down and Sexton converted for 13-10.
– Irish sloppiness punished –
However, back came the All Blacks and the outstanding Ardie Savea went in in the corner to mark his 30th birthday in style. Though Mo’unga’s conversion went wide, the All Blacks were 18-10 up.
With perhaps just 45 minutes left of his rugby career remaining, Sexton read the riot act to his teammates, berating them for the lack of cover.
They reacted positively and got a boost when Barnes yellow-carded Aaron Smith for a deliberate knock-on as Ireland were pressing and Sexton went for touch with the penalty.
It paid off as having kicked to touch shortly afterwards with another penalty Jamison Gibson-Park saw a gap and seized the opportunity brilliantly to go over and touch down.
Sexton added the extras to bring Ireland within a point at 18-17 as they into the half-time break.
The Irish had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half but twice were penalised by Barnes — Sexton having words with the English referee on the latter occasion.
As in the first half, the All Blacks proved clinical in punishing them for those errors — Will Jordan finished off a brilliant break by Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett landed the conversion for 25-17 with 25 minutes remaining.
Things just weren’t going Ireland’s way as Sexton opted to go for goal but sent his penalty wide as groans rang round the stadium with the clock ticking towards the hour mark.
Farrell decided it was time to give veteran Conor Murray a go and partner Sexton as he has done for the majority of their outstanding careers. On he came to replace the tiring Gibson-Park with 19 minutes to go.
Sexton, having gone for touch with another penalty, clapped his hands and waved his arms in the air to gee up the Irish supporters.
It worked as the decibel levels went into another stratosphere and even more so when Barnes awarded the Irish a penalty try and sin-binned Codie Taylor to leave it 25-24 with 16 minutes to go.
But Jordie Barrett stretched the lead to 28-24 with 11 minutes remaining with another long-range penalty.
The Irish pounded away in the dying minutes, phase after phase of attack, but the All Blacks stood firm and 38-year-old Sexton was left to contemplate what might have been as the whistle blew on his extraordinary career.
WHAT THEY SAID
“It was one of those Test matches, it was a battle, I’m really proud of my boys. Ireland have set the standard and I want to send love to them.” — Player of the match Ardie Savea
“What an unbelievable game of rugby union. I am lost for words. I knew the All Blacks had a game in them, but it was the way they delivered and put pressure on Ireland.” — Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick
“Johnny Sexton is going to live it all over for a long while, he will play it over and think what he could have done. Ireland gave everything they had, they were just repelled. There is nothing between the sides.” — Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll
“I am heartbroken. Ireland’s eighth quarter-final and they didn’t play to the level that they would have wanted. Johnny Sexton… is a broken man. There is a broken country here, so many Ireland fans and unfortunately it is not to be.” — Former Ireland wing Tommy Bowe
Source website: www.foxsports.com.au