PARIS : New Zealand reminded those who dared to consign them to outsider status at the World Cup that you write off the All Blacks at your peril, as they prevailed over Ireland in Saturday’s brutal quarter-final to the delight of captain Sam Cane and coach Ian Foster.
“We are absolutely stoked. It was a crazy test match, an absolute arm wrestle for 83 or 84 minutes, both teams going at it,” said Cane, after the All Blacks dashed their opponents’ World Cup hopes with a nail-biting 28-24 victory.
“I’m super proud of the effort that went into the week’s preparation. Our ability to defend our line for 30-plus phases at the end, that’s huge. What an atmosphere, what a game, what a tournament to be part of and I’m just really happy to have another week.”
It was by no means a convincing victory but New Zealand displayed many of the hallmarks that have made them the dominant force in the sport over the decades – incisive flair with ball in hand, a devastating turn of pace and a self-assured confidence that comes from having won the World Cup three times.
But it was dogged defence and ferocious commitment in the breakdowns that saw them came up trumps on Saturday, holding off wave after wave of desperate Irish attack at the end of a tumultuous tussle to send the top-ranked team out of tournament.
“A lot of credit has to go to Ireland. They have set the standard round world rugby for the last couple of years so we knew the challenge that we had here tonight,” added the captain.
New Zealand’s win was made even more impressive by the fact they twice went down to 14 men, with yellow cards to Aaron Smith and Codie Taylor, yet managed to keep themselves ahead in the match throughout.
“We don’t want to be playing with 14 men but we had to twice there. The boys dug a bit deeper. The defence was outstanding tonight. We were able to hold them out for long periods and I think ultimately that’s what won it for us.”
Foster felt it was always going to be a tight affair. “We all knew it was going to be a monster game – we had been talking about it all week – and it was,” he said.
“They’re a proud team, Ireland, they really hung in there. I thought we had them a couple of times but they kept making the game really tight. I’m so proud of the way we played. Our defence, particularly in that last part, was brilliant.
“We were disciplined, we held our cool. I thought defensively we made some shifts and found a way of stopping their line breaks coming to us. It just became a game of patience in the end and we did it well.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)