TOKYO, 19 Oct - With a display to send shudders through the rest of the Rugby World Cup pretenders, champions New Zealand once again underlined their status as the team to beat, making light work of what was supposed to be the toughest of challenges against Ireland and roaring into the semi-finals with a 46-14 triumph.
Seeking a third straight global title, the All Blacks, ferocious in defence and dazzling in attack, registered seven tries with the most complete of performances to put away a side that had beaten them on two of the three previous occasions they had met.
After England had earlier put Australia to the sword in Oita, the All Blacks made their own emphatic statement here, flexing their muscles as they scored three times in the first half, with a sniping double from their brilliant scrum-half Aaron Smith, above, watched by his young son Luka, and a breakaway from Player of the Match Beauden Barrett.
After the break, hooker Codie Taylor, replacement flanker Matt Todd, winger George Bridge and replacement wing Jordie Barrett all ploughed over too to pile on the misery as the All Blacks handed Ireland, who responded through Robbie Henshaw and a penalty try, the biggest defeat in their World Cup history.
Billed as the team with the best attack against the outfit with the meanest defence, it was the All Blacks who offered up the most ferocious defending, ripping into Ireland's green shirts with real venom, missing only one tackle out of 75 in the first half.
As for their attacking, it appeared still to be in a different league to everyone else's in the tournament as backs and forwards alike handled with remarkable facility and fluidity to set up a semi-final against England.
It was, reckoned New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, "a special Test match, one that the All Blacks, New Zealanders and the players can be proud of". For the moment, he said, England were not even on their minds, even though he echoed the delight of their coach, Eddie Jones, that this was a game to savour.
Instead, the victorious coach was more interested in paying tribute to the Irish captain, Rory Best, who was making his final appearance, and to Joe Schmidt, who was taking charge of his last match as coach. For both men, such great servants of Irish rugby, it all ended in horrible anti-climax as New Zealand's all-round relentless excellence forced the team into numerous handling errors.
"I’m unbelievably upset with the thought that I’ll never pull on a green jersey again, except to support," said Best. "We’re incredibly disappointed, we had a lot of big characters in that team. Big men were in tears in that dressing room and that's what happens when you put your heart and soul into everything."
Schmidt, who has transformed the fortunes of Irish rugby, was a little demoralised that it should end like this. "You tend to carry your scars more than your sucesses. I’m a little bit broken by it. Heartbroken wouldn’t be too far away from the way I feel and the players feel," the New Zealander admitted.
"But when I get a little distance to reflect, I've had some incredibly good days and I don’t think they get washed away by two defeats. We've just met a team that are No.1 in the world for a reason."
New Zealand started like a team famished by their two-week break and, as they hurled two or three tacklers into every phase, Ireland’s attacks were invariably suffocated at source. After a series of sustained New Zealand attacks, a gaping hole appeared in the Irish ranks allowing Smith to flit through.
After a massive game for @allblacks against Ireland, @beaudenbarrett was the @mastercard Player of the Match— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
1 try assist
21 carries (more than any other NZ player)#POTM #StartSomethingPriceless #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/rgfJNupIty
Suddenly, the All Blacks were in full attacking cry. Bridge was freed to plough down the left wing only to be brought down just before the line. Smith’s opportunism allowed him to pick up the scraps and burrow over again.
Johnny Sexton, absolutely Ireland's key, was having a tough time, his penalty kick to the corner being acrobatically kept in play by the brilliant Richie Mo'unga and then hit hard in the tackle by Sevu Reece, who booted the spilt ball on so that Beauden Barrett could race through, hack on and pile over for a third try.
With just over half an hour gone, the game seemed over. The All Blacks went in at half-time 22-0 ahead.
Any hopes of a second-half fightback were quickly extinguished when captain Kieran Read powered into the line and offloaded for Taylor to score. Then Todd went over after another superlative cross-kick had found Reece.
Amazing moment as Rory Best brings his kids onto the pitch after his last match in an @irishrugby shirt.— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 19, 2019
A legend of the game, who gave it all for the jersey.
Thanks for the memories Rory 🙌 pic.twitter.com/1rKuLdOPkM
It was a signal for Best to depart the scene after his distinguished career but he could barely bring himself to acknowledge the thunderous applause from the big Irish contingent.
He will have at least been proud of how his men kept battling and after Henshaw had failed to touch down with the line at his mercy, the centre went over moments later with a sniping attack. The All Blacks were not finished, another dazzling offload from replacement hooker Dane Coles putting in Bridge. Still Ireland kept battling and referee Nigel Owens awarded them a penalty try.
It was fitting that the final word should go to the rampaging All Blacks, who finished the rout with Jordie Barrett blitzing over in the corner. It marked the end of an emotional time for the Barrett boys, who provided their own fitting tribute to their grandfather who had died earlier in the week.