PARIS : When the Rugby World Cup reaches the business end New Zealand are always in the mix and on Saturday Ian Foster’s team once again showed why they can never be written off.
The All Blacks started their campaign with a 27-13 loss to hosts France and in Saturday’s quarter-final at the Stade de France they faced a daunting task against Ireland, the top-ranked team who had won their 17 previous tests.
Some were quick to forget that New Zealand, even if they had lost their two previous matches against the Irish, remain the game’s ultimate challenge.
Despite a shaky opening couple of minutes, the three-time champions were brutally efficient on the back of a barbed-wired defence to prevail 28-24 at the end of a nerve-racking contest.
While Ireland made some poor choices – opting not to kick an early penalty, insisting on not going wide – the All Blacks converted almost every time they had a sniff of the line with tries by Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea and Will Jordan.
They kicked their early penalties, too, to take the score and Ireland were never ahead.
Andy Farrell’s side put their opponents on the back foot but New Zealand made 230 tackles and battled hard when they were down to 14 after Aaron Smith’s and Codie Taylor’s yellow cards.
It was quite fitting that the All Blacks wrapped up the victory having withstood a 40-phase Irish possession spell after the clock had turned red.
“Our ability to defend our line for 30-plus phases at the end, that’s huge,” captain Sam Cane said.
“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.”
Coach Foster also gave credit to his team’s heroic defence, and everybody knows that defence wins championships.
“Our defence, particularly in that last part, was brilliant,” he said.
“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.”
The result left Ireland outside the door to the semi-finals once again, with the players walking around the pitch to salute their more than 60,000 fans looking groggy and dejected.
Captain Johnny Sexton admitted that New Zealand’s efficiency was brutal.
“They sucker-punched us on a few tries and that’s what champion teams do,” he said.
“New Zealand are the best team at taking the game away from you,” added Farrell.