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Dublin: 12°C Wednesday 30 September 2020


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Forget everything that happened in 2019. You might as well put 2018 out your mind as well.

Today is the day when Ireland have a chance to deliver history, a first-ever semi-final at the Rugby World Cup and, if it comes to pass, it will be against England.

Joe Schmidt’s men have proven themselves capable of beating anyone in the world on their day, but to succeed today they don’t have to beat just anyone. They must triumph over the best team in the game right now.

The team boasting eight players from the Super Rugby champions Crusaders.

The reigning world champions.

And winners of the World Cup before that.

The All Blacks.

Kick-off is coming up at 11.15, so get yourself to a screen and lock it onto eir Sport or RTE, because this is going to be a thriller.

Here’s the line-ups for the big one then.

New Zealand have happened upon a lovely double-playmaker shape with Beauden Barrett shifted to fullback to accommodate Richie Mo’unga.

A lot of Irish interest has centred around the inexperienced wings of Sevu Reece and George Bridge, but look at the vast amount of experience and quality in the back two rows of the pack: from Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick – who were so sorely missed when the sides met in Chicago – to Kieran Read, Ardie Savea and Sam Cane.


Joe Schmidt has stuck with his trusted lieutenants for this era-defining match. Robbie Henshaw goes again after his comeback from injury last week. Rob Kearney is back despite Jordan Larmour’s impressive outing against Samoa and the pack very nearly picks itself with Jack Conan, Sean O’Brien and Dan Leavy out of the picture injured.

New Zealand

15. Beauden Barrett
14. Sevu Reece
13. Jack Goodhue
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
11. George Bridge
10. Richie Mo’unga 
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Ardie Savea
7. Sam Cane
8. Kieran Read (captain)


16. Dane Coles
17. Ofa Tuungafasi
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. Scott Barrett
20. Matt Todd
21. TJ Perenara
22. Sonny Bill Williams
23. Jordie Barrett


15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose   
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander


16. Niall Scannell
17. Dave Kilcoyne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Tadhg Beirne
20. Rhys Ruddock 
21. Luke McGrath
22. Joey Carbery
23. Jordan Larmour

Referee: Nigel Owens [Wales].

Oh, it’s close now. You can almost feel the intensity from here, seven or eight time-zones away.

The teams are in the tunnel. Rory Best leads James Ryan to the mark. Kieran Read looks pumped up as he joins them, a black-clad figure emerging from shadow.

Ole ole ole rings around Tokyo Stadium, dispelling for a moment’s silence as the teams line up in position for the anthems to follow.

It sounds pretty electric. Can Ireland unleash a performance to match?

The anthems are roared out, Peter O’Mahony belted out Ireland’s Call, eyes closed. Rory Best spent the time taking deep calming breaths.

Haka time.

The Fields of Athenry rings out as Kapo o Pango is performed, with Sonny Bill Williams making himself heard amidst it all.

What impact will he have on this game when he’s sprung from the bench?


There are nerves in the face of every player out there. Beauden Barrett forces a smile before kicking off.

James Ryan takes the ball and Sevu Reece tries to grab his pass down, but it’s knocked on.

Scrum Ireland in their own half.


First minute and the first outing of a Joe Schmidt set play, Murray feigns to go blindside, Stockdale passes back inside and Sexton attempts to cross-kick for Earls.

Bridge gathered and turns with minimal fuss.


CJ takes on a carry, but he is lined up by Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read and it’s called as a held-up maul. Black scrum.


Chaos on the edge of Ireland’s 22 as a bouncing ball hits poor Garry Ringrose on the head. 

The defence settles and forms in time to shut off a route for Sevu Reece.

Ireland’s defence looks good here and Jacob Stockdale gets very close to intercepting a pass from Richie Mo’unga.

Owens calls a penalty on the Ulster wing because he only got a single hand on the pill.

Flag 5Mins

Garry Ringrose is off for a blood sub after a nasty clash of heads with Henshaw as they both wrapped around a tackle on Whitelock.

Jordan Larmour will fill in in the centre.

PENALTY! New Zealand 3 Ireland 0 (Mo’unga ’6)


Ireland are offloading. So, yeah, you could say we’re out to show something special.

Rory Best passing out of the tackle. On the next phase, the ball goes to ground as Goodhue gets a good hit on Earls. ALB gets the first boot on the ball and Ireland are lucky Larmour is on to speed away and cover.

The pressure doesn’t relent though, Conor Murray is charged down.

Fortunately, the line-out is secured and a penalty won for Sexton to clear the lines.


The Kiwi maul D is strong as Ireland hit the front on the line-out. Henshaw is asked to truck it up and he’s hit by Cane and the knock-on comes.


There’s a fantastic fluid attack from New Zealand, showing the skill-set in their forwards with passes from Read and Retallick.

They go left and Murray looks ready to light up Mo’unga as he shoots out of the line, but the scrum-half is easily by-passed. The Crusaders 10 grubbers to the corner, and Ireland can thank Rob Kearney for sweeping up.

The pressure is mounting.


The scrum-half snipes left of a ruck and right of the posts, lunging and stretching to ground the ball on the whitewash.

New Zealand, I’m afraid to tell you, look in very rude health.


How will Ireland respond to that massive setback?

A penalty comes in midfield. Sexton tries to drain every last inch of it and Richie Mo’unga makes him sorry he did with a sensational leap to bat the ball back in play for Barrett to play with.


New Zealand show just how clinical and ruthless they can be.

Off a line-out, Goodhue pops a reverse pass back for Sevu Reece to attack laterally and he whips a terrific pass left to Bridge, who steps a defender and is hauled short of the line by Keith Earls.

The danger was far from over and Smith used Stockdale’s eagerness to make a play on the ruck against him, sniping over in the corner.

Mo’unga kicks another sweet conversion to give the ABs a very big lead.

New Zealand 17 Ireland 0


There is barely time to draw breath in this game. Peter O’Mahony has stolen a line-out and then, assisted by Best, stole a breakdown to force the penalty.

I haven’t mentioned that Henshaw is off the field after getting his head knock seen to – looks like just a blood sub for now, with Larmour back in the game.


Ireland having to work very, very hard in defence to keep these black waves at bay.

CJ Stander is at the forefront of the efforts, some big shots at the ruck and tackle to slow down the irresistible speed of that Kiwi attack.


It’s with the TMO for an interminable wait, so we get a good long look at what is an absolute disaster of a try for Ireland to concede.

Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton, with all that experience and all those minutes played together, get their lines mixed up and the fullback is too close for the 10 to pass.

Sevu Reece smashes Sexton and forces a knock-on, hacked on by Mo’unga and then Beauden Barrett – as he did as a replacement in the World Cup final – takes two touches with his boot before touching the ball down for a try.

Small mercies? The conversion is missed. 


It’s all unravelling at a rapid pace for Ireland now. James Ryan pops the ball back and Conor Murray of all people knocks on a sloppy knock-on.


Murray now pinged for a high tackle on Smith as the black 9 jinks out of harm’s way.

The half-time whistle can’t come soon enough for Ireland, because they don’t look like registering a score before then.


A wee reprieve for Ireland as Murray’s chip through is initially called black ball, but it went out off a Kiwi boot.

Line-out for Ireland to mount a late attack and, really land a first glove on NZ.

Penalty comes as Read goes off his feet.

Sexton will kick for the corner.


Ireland set a decent maul, but it’s going nowhere and Moody is waiting on Best to come around the corner on the short side.

Penalty coming against Read for hitting Healy without the ball, but Owens is also checking on Peter O’Mahony for side entry.

Bear with us.

Flag 40Mins

Sorry, it’s not a side entry that’s called, it’s a ‘lead with the shoulder’ dangerous play call and it goes against Pete.

Harsh call, but it’s hard to feel that it matters in the grand scheme of things. Ireland have been expertly picked apart here.

HALF-TIME: New Zealand 22 Ireland 0

The thought struck me midway through that half that it felt like Ireland’s 2003 quarter-final exit. Lose to the hosts in the pool, go with some belief to the knockouts and then get thoroughly blown out of the water by a rampant attack.

Opta have backed me up with a stat.



Great footage from inside the changing rooms, a rare glimpse behind the curtain that Joe Schmidt won’t allow in normal matches.

The head coach was in conversation with the backs and was gesturing upwards and also mimed batting the ball backwards. So I guess Ireland will try to hang up a few Garryowens as they search for a route back from this three=try deficit.

The second half begins with a high ball alright, and Jacob Stockdale takes it while planting his foot on the touchline.

A chance for New Zealand to build.


New Zealand have sent on Scott Barrett in place of Sam Cane and what that will take away from their mobility in the back row, it will allow them an extra option at the line-out.


On New Zealand go.

There is no let-up and Ireland can’t make enough of an impact on defence to beat the black waves back.

The Kiwis are supremely adept at knowing when a carrier loses momentum. When it happens, he instantly turns to find a man running forward and that subtle change in the point of contact leaves Ireland continually readjusting.


New Zealand were almost toying with Ireland there. They had numbers out wide, but they were happy to keep pumping the middle, eating up the clock and making Ireland rack up tackles.

The set ends thanks to a superb offload off the deck by Kieran Read and the hooker dots down under the posts.


30 minutes to go and Ireland look bereft of ideas. Bereft of energy. And bereft of all that belief that Guinness bought the rights to over the summer.

New Zealand, meanwhile, send on Sonny Bill.


Schmidt goes to the bench now. Larmour in for Kearney, who looks like he’s been hit by a bus as he sits on the bench.

Killer is in for Healy too, but New Zealand don’t lose fluency or rhythm when they send replacements on. They’re back in Ireland’s 22 and flicking the ball around like it’s a training drill.


A penalty goes against Retallick and that’s the last he’ll play today. Steve Hansen is thinking of the semi-final clash with England now as he takes big Brodie out of harm’s way and sends Matt Todd on to help see this one out. 


Conor Murray admonished there by Owens for going a bit ape-shit as he comes under pressure behind a ruck.

There is a strong case to be made here for handing the reins to Joey Carbery and Luke McGrath now, at least give us something to hope for in the four years ahead.


The knife keeps twisting in Ireland’s World Cup corpse. 

Barrett hits a beaut of a cross-field kick and Sevu Reece hits it in stride.

The wing doesn’t make the line himself, hauled in by Stockdale, but Todd pops up after the next ruck and crashes over. 


There’s the call. 

Rory Best, after 124 caps, is called ashore and part of the stadium stands to bid him farewell.

An incredible servant who doesn’t deserve this as his final chapter.

rory-best-with-keith-earls-and-iain-henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO


Ireland press and press on the All Black line and finally look ready to claim a score as Joey Carbery chips through.

Somehow, some way, Robbie Henshaw doesn’t get a firm hand on the ball.

There is not enough lipstick in the world for this pig of an outcome.

Flag 69Mins

TRY! New Zealand 34 Ireland 7 (Henshaw ’66)

Play goes back for a penalty and Ireland’s scrum sets up a simple crash ball play for the big man and Henshaw atones for his error.

There can be no celebrating though.


A vicious score on turnover ball. Savea wins it at the breakdown and makes his own line-break, inviting on Dane Coles who offloads to Bridge.

Todd is lying prone on the turf as the counter unfolded. Andrew Porter may be in trouble for a clear-out on him.

New Zealand 41 Ireland 7

PENALTY TRY! New Zealand 41 Ireland 14


Todd is penalised for stopping Ireland making a carry at the posts, but that is still one of the softest penalty tries you’ll ever see.

The flanker is sin-binned too, so New Zealand will end the game with 14 men.


TRY! New Zealand 46 Ireland 14 (J Barrett ’78)

14 men against 15 and they still create a two-man overlap on the right. Beauden to Jordie and that’s seven tries.

And there is the end of another Rugby World Cup journey for Ireland.

Another quarter-final, another convincing defeat.

World number one coming into the tournament and yet the wait goes on to make a semi-final.

Joe Schmidt walks away, undone by high-skilled, high-tempo attacking teams in Japan and New Zealand.

Andy Farrell must take over with a very open mind.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell


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