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Ireland’s wait continues after All Blacks prevail in match like no other

It was breathless and unrelenting in skill and intensity. Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against New Zealand was, frankly, like nothing ever witnessed on a rugby field.

The Springboks and France have a hard act to follow in the second of the double header quarterfinals in the Stade de France on Sunday.

New Zealand advanced to the last four and a meeting with Argentina, while for Ireland the experience of a World Cup semifinal remains as distant as it ever was.

For a team that was at their nadir not too long ago, New Zealand dusted themselves down and got up for a match they simply refused to lose.

They held out for a 28-24 win after Ireland went through 36 phases in the game’s final act to try to snatch victory. It was perhaps a metaphor for the growth and the systemic excellence that Ireland have been able to bed down over the last few years that they could keep the ball for that long, and still come up short against a team that knows how to make it stick in a one-off clash in a World Cup cauldron.

It was an exhilarating encounter.

Even as neutral you gently swayed with the currents of the game and by the end everyone inside the Stade de France was drained.

In the build-up New Zealand coach Ian Foster said the All Blacks don’t want to die wondering. If there were shots to be fired, they sure did. When they sniffed opportunity they generally seized the moment.

It was the Springboks’ great lament that they did not fully profit from the advances they made deep into Irish territory in their pool B match last month. New Zealand, though, when presented chances were full of zeal and enough zig and zag to keep Ireland’s defenders on their toes.

But few teams have their playbook so thoroughly hard-wired into their being than Ireland. After falling 13-0 behind after two penalties and a converted Leicester Fainga’anuku try they consulted their operating manual and came back firing with greater resolve.

All the short, sure passes, the decoy runners, switches and point of attack alterations had New Zealand on the back foot. Sure Ireland profited with first-half tries from the Kiwi-born Bundee Aki and Jamison Gibson-Park but the All Blacks were up for the challenge in the tackle.

Sam Cane, arguably delivered one of his finest performances in the black jersey, while Shannon Frizzell and Ardie Savea spread themselves.

Savea was asked about his ability to chip the ball into space and finish like a winger.

“Things just happen, it’s instinctive, that’s sometimes rugby. I think it was all the years when I was a kid thinking I was a first-five [flyhalf] that helped me. There is still stuff on my game I need to work on,” he said.

Former Bok captain Bob Skinstad called it the best performance from a No 8 he had ever seen.

Lock Brodie Retallick rolled back the years in the second row, while prop Ethan de Groot showed that for him, there may be many fine ones to come.

Spare a thought for Ireland, though, who had long topped the world charts but had to yield to a veteran with a well-timed Christmas classic.

“Fine margins and all that,” Ireland head coach Andy Farrell sighed. “Getting held up on line from a maul close to end that could have sealed the game. Ifs, buts and maybes and all that. Two good teams out there playing some outstanding rugby but we came out on the wrong side of the score.

“Sport can be cruel at times. But I’m unbelievably proud of the group and the way they have handled themselves not just today but over the last couple of years.”

There were Irish complaints about the way the scrum was reffed, but not from within the team. Farrell stressed he had no desire for sour grapes.

Johnny Sexton will disappear into the sunset, as will the enduring Keith Earls.

In some ways it is the end of an era for Ireland but Farrell stressed the systems and culture they have in place will ensure Ireland will continue to challenge at the game’s cutting edge.

“It is the end for this team because people are going to be leaving but the competition that this team has built over the years will continue because of how it has been driven, certainly over the last couple of years.”

Source: Times Live