Aaron Smith scored two tries as ruthless New Zealand took a step closer to a third-straight Rugby World Cup title with a 46-14 quarter-final victory over Ireland.
Beauden Barrett, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett all crossed the line as the All Blacks advanced to the semi-finals against England in Yokohama next Saturday.
A disappointing Ireland side were left to count the cost of a seventh quarter-final defeat in nine World Cup tournaments, a Robbie Henshaw score and a penalty try offered scant consolation.
Here’s the key talking points from Tokyo:
NEW ZEALAND CLASS
There has been little to separate New Zealand and Ireland in recent years but they remain poles apart when it comes to World Cups.
The All Blacks were utterly dominant on Saturday, playing fast and accurate, and showing lots of energy and physicality around the ball carrier.
They blasted Ireland apart, demonstrating fast back line play, slick passing, strong defence (they missed just 11 out of their 149 tackles), good kicking variety and ran good angles to make it difficult for Ireland to get over the gain line.
In defence, Ardie Savea (14), Sam Whitelock (13), Kieran Read (13), Sam Cane (12), Ofa Tu’ungafasi (12) and Joe Moody (11) made a staggering 75 tackles between them without missing one.
Their ferocity around ruck time – firing bodies in at all opportunities – put them on the front foot and prevented Ireland from generating quick ball, for the rare few times the losers enjoyed possession.
New Zealand are hands down the most potent team in the competition, showing high levels of accuracy and carving Ireland open with seven tries, while conceding just two.
All you could do was sit back, admire and pay tribute to the sensational rugby that they play.
A semi-final showdown against England is going to be fascinating.
Despite New Zealand’s brilliance, Ireland froze, lost most phases of play, missed too many tackles (29 tackles out of 137), made poor decisions and executed a poor and inaccurate game plan.
It’s systematic of the last 12 months and, in truth, maybe November’s win over the All Blacks in Dublin was actually the barometer that was never likely to be matched.
From a confidence point of view, to have no points on the board at half-time was a serious blow. And, to underline their lack of creativity, it took until the 69th minute before the Men in Green had the first score of the afternoon through Henshaw.
They didn’t have the keys to unlock New Zealand’s colossal defence, were cut open at ease and didn’t have the smartness and skill to trouble them.
Frustrated as the match wore on, Ireland lost focus and looked distracted by the commanding score-line. Instead, they should have tried to control the scenario, and worked on their accuracy and efficiency.
It was a disappointing performance from a team that promised so much with their strong displays over the past two years. Unfortunately, it’s back to the drawing board for new manager Andy Farrell ahead of the Six Nations in February.
People questioned Steve Hansen’s decision to play Beauden Barrett at full-back, but like all great players, stick them anywhere and they are likely to make a significant impact.
The two-time World Player of the Year terrified Ireland with his searing pace, making 21 runs for 79 metres, while chipping in with a fine solo try before flicking the ball out to his brother Jordie for the final score late on.
His overall contribution in Tokyo was outstanding, attacking from deep, eyeing gaps that other players couldn’t see and using all his skill and intelligence to put Seevu Reece, Richie Mo’unga and George Bridge into formidable attacking positions.
For a man who doesn’t look like the same towering presence compared to other rugby stars, he’s been the best and most consistent player since 2016.
Will be key in the All Blacks quest for a third straight Webb Ellis trophy.
SCHMIDT REIGN AS MANAGER
Joe Schmidt got used to making history during his six years in charge of Ireland.
As well as winning three Six Nations titles, the Kiwi broke Ireland’s southern hemisphere duck. They won a Test match in South Africa for the first time, won a series in Australia for the first time in almost 40 years, and more importantly, beat New Zealand twice.
But despite inspiring a nation during his golden reign as manager, he was unable to sign off in style and guide the Men in Green past the quarter-final stage for the first time.
Still, his legacy will be always be remembered for some of Ireland rugby’s finest moments.
For New Zealand boss Hansen, who will step down after the tournament, a chance to guide his team to a third successive World Cup title could make him one of the greatest ever coaches.
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