Ruddock's pride as Ireland push Baby Blacks to limit
New Zealand 31, Ireland 26
It could hardly have been much closer in the end but as Ireland chew over another defeat to the Kiwis, they will seriously rue a yellow card on the stroke of half-time which turned this cracking Junior World Championship clash in favour of the Baby Blacks.
Ireland were going toe-to-toe with their illustrious opponents but then Welsh referee Ian Davies, who had been lenient on a battered New Zealand scrum, dished out a yellow card to Ireland try scorer Thomas Farrell on the stroke of half-time.
The Baby Blacks, strong with ball in hand, did not need a further invitation and they ruthlessly pounced to turn a 14-11 interval lead into 26-11 by 48 minutes and then grabbed a fourth try.
Ireland managed to regroup and a brace of tries and a couple of kicks brought them within a try of the four-time champions but while the Kiwis had a man in the bin for the closing minutes, Ireland just could not conjure a fourth try to seal a first ever semi-final spot when a draw would have been enough to send them through.
In the end England advance by virtue of having scored 23 tries to Ireland's 10 in the pool games – 17 of which came last night in a 109-0 drubbing of the hapless USA.
Now Ruddock will need his men to regroup and try to match last year's best ever finish of fifth and ensure a more favourable draw next season.
"I was proud of my team. I thought they were fantastic," said Ruddock.
"The yellow card was probably a defining moment for us. You can't give the All Blacks that sort of time and space when you are a man down."
The hard-working Dan Leavy got Ireland back in the game towards the end of the third quarter when he finished a good move involving Steve Crosbie and Rory Scholes.
It got better for Ireland when prop Edward Byrne buried his way over after incessant Irish pressure.
Rory Scannell's successful conversion left it 31-23 and then he landed his third penalty to leave just a try between them less then 10 minutes from the end when a draw would have sent both teams through.
But Ireland were unable to conjure that fourth try and New Zealand just did enough to hang on.
Earlier, Ireland traded on parity for most of the opening half, gaining an upper hand in the scrum and New Zealand were fortunate not to have a man binned for persistent scrum infringements.
But New Zealand always looked dangerous with ball in hand. They were keen to go wide as quickly as possible but Ireland kept it tight and drove it through the middle with the excellent handling skills witnessed in the wins over Australia and Fiji again producing a big dividend.
Rory Scannell, taking over the kicking duties from the injured Tom Daly, twice traded penalties with Simon Hickey to leave the sides deadlocked at 6-6 after half an hour.
But when Ireland lost a scrum and a lineout, the turnover ended with gigantic lock Patrick Tuipulotu scoring in the left corner after excellent work from skipper Ardie Savea and impressive winger Lolagi Visinia.
But the Irish response was excellent with Thomas Farrell pouncing on a loose pass from Hickey to sprint over from distance in the right corner.
The Kiws regained the lead with another Hickey penalty but the key moment was the binning of Farrell for an infringement on scrum-half Tayler Adams just before the break and, try as they might, Ireland were just unable to haul back the Kiwis in a cracking encounter.
Afterwards New Zealand captain Ardie Savea summed up his feelings.
"I'm stoked now, especially after that second half. They scored a try and we struggled to get that momentum back. I think the boys are just relieved," said the younger brother of All-Black Julian.
New Zealand – J Webber; P Latu, J Emery, M Collins, L Visinia; S Hickey, T Adams; D Brighouse, E Faiva, B Wiggins; P Tuipulotu, C Vui; J Manihera, A Sevea, J Edwards. Reps: S Mafileo for Wiggins (h-t), N Grogan for Brighouse (63), H May for Manihera (67), D Brighouse for Latu (71), S Scrafton for Vui (71).
Ireland – D Leader (Connacht); A Byrne (Leinster), T Farrell (Leinster), R Scannell (Munster), R Scholes (Ulster); S Crosbie (Leinster), L McGrath (Leinster); P Dooley (Leinster), G McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons), C Taylor (Ulster); G Thornubury (Leinster), J Donnan (Ulster); D Leavy (Leinster), J van der Flier (Leinster), C Joyce (Ulster). Reps: D Sweetnam (Munster) for Byrne (34), B Byrne (Leinster) for McGuigan (49), E Byrne (Leinster) for Dooley (49), P Timmins (Leinster) for Thornbury (49), R Murphy (Munster) for Joyce (67), M Roche (Connacht) for Crosbie (67), D Shanahan (Leinster) for McGrath (76), A Boland (Connacht) for Taylor (79).
REF – I Davies (Wales).