Gutsy Irish comeback falls short against the Baby Blacks
A gutsy and courageous Ireland comeback fell agonisingly short as they were beaten 31-26 by the Baby Blacks in an absorbing thriller at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes.
"We knew Ireland would keep coming and coming and we're lucky to come away with that win," an exhausted New Zealand captain Ardie Savea admitted after the game.
Ireland trailed by 31-11 going into the final quarter but tries from Daniel Leavy and Brian Byrne cut that lead to five but Ireland could not conjure another try for a famous win.
New Zealand advance to the semi-finals of the competition as Pool B winners.
Both sides began well with New Zealand illustrating their blistering pace out wide and I'll Ireland shading the set-piece and parity at the breakdown.
Over-zealous play at ruck time gave Rory Scannell the chance to give Ireland the lead and he made to mistake after 1 minutes.
Ireland were guilty of tackling in the air from the restart but their flyhalf Simon Hickey could not match Scannell's accuracy.
An incredible break by Baby Black captain Ardie Savea down the shortside released Taylor Adams but he was denied by an incredible trysaving tackle from Daragh Leader.
Daniel Leavy was guilty of a high tackle and Hickey equalised as the favourites began turning the screw.
Peter Dooley failed to roll away following a tackle in the 19th minute and Hickey pushed the Kiwis in front by 6-3.
Another powerful Irish scrum earned a kickable penalty and Scannell's left peg made no mistake.
Hickey blew another chance on 26 minutes but New Zealand struck for a try in the 32nd minute after a period of pressure and Patrick Tuipulotu dived over but Hickey was wayward again with the conversion.
Ireland reacted in the best possible fashion as Thomas Farrell seized upon a loose All-Black pass and galloped from his own 10 metre line to touchdown in the corner.
Scannell was just missed with his conversion attempt.
Ireland were penalised for offside and Hickey scored to give the All-Blacks the advantage at the break but their was still time for tryscorer Farrell to be sinbinned.
Ireland wold begin the second half at a numerical disadvantage and within eight minutes they were exposed twice as Epalahame Faiva and Fa'asiu Fuatai got in for tries and Hickey converted one to leave the Baby Blacks 26-11 in front.
Ireland were restored to 15 but they fell asleep at a New Zealand lineout five metres from their own line and Faiva pounced for his second try of the half.
Another fine break from Thomas Farrell saw him stopped five metres short but Ireland spread it wide beautifully and Daniel Leavy went over in the corner.
Scannell missed the difficult conversion and Ireland trailed by 31-16 entering the final quarter.
After an incredible period of Irish pressure Brian Byrne went low and finished superbly for another brilliant Irish try and Scannell's conversion left just eight points between them.
Ireland were piling on the pressure and Kiwi substitute Nick Grogan was sinbinned for a penalty that Sean Scannell kicked superbly and the score was 31-26 with 10 minutes remaining.
Ireland tried desperately to get the try that would guarantee at least a draw but it never came.
A truly inspiring effort in defeat by Mike Ruddock's men.