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Analysis: Ireland's abysmal opening quarter sets tone for All Blacks hammering

Needing to be cool and clinical, Ireland instead delivered their most un-Schmidt like showing.

IRELAND KNEW THEY needed a strong start. 

Joe Schmidt understood that his team simply had to be the front-runners, picking up early scores and planting seeds of doubt in Kiwi minds.

Instead, for the second World Cup in a row, Ireland delivered a truly disastrous opening quarter to ensure their quarter-final was essentially over with just 21 minutes played.

the-ireland-team-dejected-after-the-game Ireland were dire in the opening quarter. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The All Blacks were superb in taking advantage, but this opening effort from Ireland was about as un-Schmidt like a performance as they have delivered in his time in charge.

Uncomposed, inaccurate, sloppy, muddy in their thinking, and indecisive in their execution, Ireland invited the All Blacks to thrive with their incredible rate of errors on a huge occasion that called for a cool, calm and clinical performance.

Trailing 17-0 after the first quarter, Ireland had essentially lost the game before it really got going. Here, we examine the litany of failings from Schmidt’s side on yet another dark day for Irish rugby at the Rugby World Cup.

Poor execution

After the All Blacks knock the ball on under their short kick-off, Ireland get an early scrum platform and throw a clever idea at the All Blacks only to execute poorly.

We saw Ireland go down the shortside twice off similar scrums against Scotland for Jacob Stockdale to chip ahead, and Ireland are hoping the Kiwis fall for the same picture here as they instead switch back to the openside.


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Ireland’s scrum platform is excellent and we can see above that the Kiwis initially buy into for the Irish deception, as Stockdale switches underneath and screens a pass behind Robbie Henshaw to Johnny Sexton.

Ireland have preserved a fair bit of space for Keith Earls [red below] on the right wing for Sexton’s planned cross-field kick, with Kiwi left wing George Bridge [yellow] naturally defending tighter to his midfield, and fullback Beauden Barrett out of shot in a deep position.


But Sexton’s kick is a poor one. This is a very difficult kick to execute on the move and early in a game with his first touch, but Sexton would have been disappointed not to give Earls a chance to catch the ball on the full.

We should note that the All Blacks’ attacking kicking in this game was extremely accurate, and Sexton’s effort here is too far upfield and allows Bridge to recover to gather.

Choked up

The Kiwis roll a grubber into touch down the left and then defend Ireland’s mauling effort very well, forcing them to carry off slow ball.

It should be noted that Ireland’s very first carry of the game through Cian Healy saw him turn the ball over, but referee Nigel Owens had been playing advantage for the knock-on from the Kiwis’ kick-off.

Ireland’s second carry of the game is equally as poor.


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It’s superb defending from Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read here to wrap up the ball, but Stander will be disappointed with his technique in the carry.

As we can see below, Stander is very upright into the contact and he actually leads with the ball into the Kiwi tackle.


That obviously makes it easier for Whitelock and Read to wrap the ball up as they choke-tackle Stander.

While Ireland might argue that this was actually just a long tackle rather than a maul, the real issue is with a poor carry. Stander being choked means Ireland turn the ball over cheaply for the second time inside the opening three minutes.

Conceding three 

The All Blacks appear to take Ireland very much by surprise with their tactic off this first scrum platform as Mo’unga launches a garryowen into their 22.

With Kearney having been worried about a wide passing attack, he can’t get back underneath the ball, while right wing Earls also fails to get under it and the ball bounces off Garry Ringrose’s head and back into Kiwi hands.

They launch a probing attack featuring their first excellent tip-on pass of the day from Whitelock to Ardie Savea but Ireland manage well defensively until Stockdale gives up a penalty.


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Stockdale would have been disappointed with giving up a cheap penalty in this instance. Ireland have enough defenders on his side of the ruck for the Ireland wing to go hard and make a dominant ball-and-all hit on Sevu Reece as Mo’unga releases his pass.

Instead, Stockdale decides to go after the intercept but without 100% conviction, leaving him somewhere in between and only able to stretch out one hand to knock the ball on.

It’s a straightforward penalty for Owens, who warns Stockdale that he’s lucky it wasn’t yellow. Mo’unaga steps up to fire over a superb penalty kick for a 3-0 lead that Ireland have very much fed to the All Blacks.

Missed chance

Stockdale does his best to make amends with a superb take of Sexton’s excellent short restart and Ireland spring into a promising attack that features a Best offload to Murray for a big gain up towards the Kiwi 22.

Indeed, Ireland really stretch the New Zealand defence and manage to manufacture an opportunity wide on the right only for more poor execution to almost cost them a try at the other end of the pitch.


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There is lovely shape from Ireland here as Best makes a link pass to Sexton from the middle of a three-man pod and then Sexton screens the next two forwards to Earls, giving the Munster man time on the ball.

Ireland stress the Kiwi defence here, inviting Anton Lienert-Brown to bite in from outside, as highlighted in red below.


As the ball arrives into Earls’ hands, the opportunity is on for Ireland.

Lienert-Brown has bitten in on the forwards running the screen and Ireland have space out on the right.

Left wing Bridge [yellow below] is now isolated on the edge of the Kiwi defence and if Earls [blue] can hit Henshaw [pink] early here, the Ireland 12 can run hard at Bridge’s inside shoulder and look to force him to commit to a tackle before releasing Jordan Larmour [white] down the touchline.


We can see that Larmour has his hand up signalling for the ball.

It’s worth noting that All Blacks fullback Barrett is in behind the defence out of shot and while a try might not be on for Ireland here, it’s a great opportunity to further stress the Kiwis.

Instead of passing, though, Earls hangs onto the ball indecisively, allowing Jack Goodhue to hunt hard from the inside and tackle him ball-and-all, forcing it loose and resulting in Bridge hacking ahead.

Only superb work-rate and pace from Larmour in hounding back prevents Ireland from conceding. To compound their woes, Murray then sees his attempted box kick blocked down by Codie Taylor, only for the ball to ricochet into touch to Ireland’s relief.

Basic error

Savea gives up a soft penalty at the ensuing maul to let Ireland out and Schmidt’s side get an attacking lineout on the halfway line – the kind of position from where they are often excellent.

Unfortunately for Ireland, they make a very basic error to turn the ball over once again.


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Again, the All Blacks deserve credit for their superb maul defence – a theme throughout this game – as they force Ireland towards the touchline and Murray has to play away from the set-piece.

It’s a simple knock-on from Henshaw in an admittedly powerful tackle from the outstanding Sam Cane, and again there will have been real frustration at the quality of the carry.

Having been injured for most of the World Cup, Henshaw has been rusty over the past two weekends and we can see signs of that again here.


As highlighted above, Henshaw’s grip on the ball is poor, down low around the end rather than having the ball dripped across the middle to give some security.

Similarly to Stander, the Ireland centre leads with the ball directly into the tackle and, in this case, Cane’s firm right shoulder, resulting in a simple knock-on.

It’s an infuriating basic mistake for Ireland to once again turn the ball over.

Losing the inches

The All Blacks willingly sweep onto the attack from the ensuing scrum, with Savea carrying powerfully off the base and then the Kiwis showing off their skills again with width and two sublime tip-on passes from Read to Taylor. 

Mo’unga eventually grubbers behind Ireland, forcing Kearney to scramble and hack a kick into touch, giving the New Zealanders a lineout 10 metres out.

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They overthrow but Lienert-Brown regathers the ball and then the Kiwis grind Ireland down to score, beating Schmidt’s side for the crucial inches in the physical battle.

There are several examples across this eight-phase passage but we see one below.


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Read initially appears to consider another tip-on pass and is briefly standing still, an invitation for him to be hammered.

But Ireland are slow to take the invitation and Best instead soaks another tackle, Read showing his power and fighting mentality to win a few more inches in what is the second-last carry before Aaron Smith scores.


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Smith is helped by a rather blatant side entry from Brodie Retallick [red below] at this final ruck to ensure a quick recycle after Sam Cane’s carry.


But Ireland will be deeply disappointed with their defensive organisation around the ruck here.

We can see below that Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony, and Iain Henderson [all red] are folding around the corner after Cane has carried, worried about the All Blacks playing the same way.


Disastrously for Ireland, there is no one ready to fill in on the left-hand side of the Kiwi ruck, however.

Sexton is pushing out to Ireland’s right to occupy a wider defensive position, while Best has just got off the ground from soaking the previous tackle on Read, and Josh van der Flier [both yellow] hasn’t identified the danger either. 

Smith’s thinking is far too quick for Ireland and he snipes into the glaring hole to take advantage of Ireland’s disjointed and disconnected defence to help New Zealand into a 10-0 lead with less than 15 minutes played.

Another missed chance

The Kiwis kick clear following Ireland’s restart and, again, Schmidt’s side put together a promising attacking passage that yields an opportunity, this time on the left edge.

Again, Ireland fail to take advantage.


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Similarly to the earlier example, Best shows good handling ability to link out the back to Sexton, as Savea [red below] is lured into biting in on the decoy-running James Ryan.


That buys Sexton time on the ball and leaves Kiwi right wing Sevu Reece [yellow below] very isolated.


Again, Barrett is in the backfield out of shot but the opportunity for Ireland is clear.

Henshaw [pink above] runs very tight off Sexton here, their timing and cohesion off.

Sexton does, however, have the option of firing a powerful skip pass wide to Stockdale [white] in space on the touchline. Sexton at his very best likely throws that pass, even with the threat of Reece picking it off.

Instead, Sexton looks to draw Reece and feed Henshaw outside him, but the Ireland out-half fails to sit down Reece as Henshaw also gets too tight to Sexton.

We can see Sexton throw his arms out in frustration, and himself and Henshaw will be very disappointed with their execution here. This kind of failure to take advantage after creating space was crippling for Ireland, with the Kiwis’ third try in the game coming directly from a similar failing.

Ireland do at least get a penalty for the tackle off the ball on Ryan by Taylor in this instance.

Missing touch

Still only 10-0 down and inside the first quarter, the chance to finally visit the Kiwi 22 and grind out a try to bring them back into the game is very welcome for Ireland.

Unfortunately for Schmidt’s side, Sexton fails to find touch.


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Clearly, Mo’unga does brilliantly to keep the ball in play here, leaping from within the pitch to bat it back infield, but it’s another desperately disappointing shortcoming for Ireland.

Sexton often squeezes every last inch out of his linekicks but having also missed touch with an effort against Samoa, there was reason for taking even a few inches out of his desired outcome here.

Had Mo’unga not athletically kept this ball in play, Sexton would likely have been lauded for getting every last possible gain out of his kick but he doesn’t make touch and it’s extremely costly for Ireland.

Lineout failing

After a brief exchange of kicks, Ireland get another lineout platform to work off but once again they turn the ball over, this time in the set-piece itself. 


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The connection between jumper and thrower lets Ireland down on this occasion. There is pressure on Ryan from Retallick in the air here but the Irish lock will still be disappointed not to gather in the ball, aware as he is that Retallick cannot grasp his arms.

The throw from Best is perhaps slightly too powerful, meaning it would take real skill from Ryan to gather it. Ryan instead bats the ball back on Ireland’s side as the rest of the pack are getting ready for him to return to ground to set up a maul and Furlong can’t react in time to gather.

While Ireland feel the ball goes backwards off Furlong’s hand, Owens signals the scrum and Ireland concede again.

Disjointed defence

Ireland have had real struggles defending from scrums in recent times and their poor form in this area is apparent again as the All Blacks produce a wonderful strike play to earn their second try.


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The All Blacks’ passing is of the highest quality in this play as Smith finds out-half Mo’unaga, who skips to outside centre Goodhue, who screens a pass that releases Reece outside the edge of the Ireland defence.

The disjointed nature of Ireland’s defence once again hurts them. England exploited this when they hammered Schmidt’s team in Twickenham in the World Cup warm-ups and there is a similar disconnection here.

Sexton [blue below] and Henshaw [pink] on the inside do initially get off the line at pace but they then ease off and look ready to move into a drift or jockey, tracking the New Zealand passes across the pitch.


But outside centre Ringrose [red above] is coming up with massive linespeed in a bid to shut the ball down on Goodhue, with Earls [yellow] following him up and in onto the decoy-running Barrett.

Essentially, Ireland appear to be running two different systems of defence in their frontline, which is difficult to understand at this highest level of the game.

Goodhue’s skill in catching and passing under severe pressure is sublime and with Earls biting down on Barrett, Reece gets around the edge and draws up fullback Kearney before passing to left wing Bridge.

Ireland manage to scramble and prevent Bridge from scoring directly, but they concede on the very next phase.


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Rather than displaying composure after giving themselves at least a chance to prevent the score, Ireland are panicky.

Stockdale shoots up offside and makes contact with Smith to give up penalty advantage and then has to watch as the Kiwi scrum-half shows his sharpness again to snipe into the space Stockdale has vacated to score.

With Mo’unga calmly slotting the touchline conversion with just over 21 minutes played, Ireland find themselves 17-0 down in a World Cup quarter-final against the All Blacks.

There is simply no way back from there and with heads dropping and energy seeping out of Schmidt’s team, things only got uglier from there.

That so many of the wounds were self-inflicted will hurt.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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