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Neil Francis: 'A moment in the 67th minute summed this disaster up - Ireland were out-fought and out-thought'

 

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A dejected Ireland team applaud their fans after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A dejected Ireland team applaud their fans after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

A dejected Ireland team applaud their fans after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final match between New Zealand and Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium in Chofu, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In competitions like this, at the elite level, it is purely mental. Performance is purely mental. Ireland were out-gunned, out-classed, out-thought and out-fought by a team that could smell weakness.

If both teams looked apprehensive when the anthems were being sung, only one team went on to play in such a manner. Maybe New Zealand did take cognisance of what happened at the Aviva last November, but it was nothing to do with how Ireland beat them that day, it was just a mental note.

This was a statement performance by New Zealand. To Ireland, it was a statement that if you have the temerity to beat the All Blacks then you’d better be able to back it up. To the remaining sides in the tournament, it was a statement in case any of them were getting ahead of themselves.

It had nothing to do with revenge and yet what transpired was as ruthless, relentless and remorseless a performance as I’ve seen from them in quite a while.

The question has to be asked about this New Zealand side — which is far from a vintage New Zealand side — is how many dimensions can they play in? They play with a gift of simplicity and they have an all-purpose, all-court game; principally they won every collision yesterday and the manner in which they stopped Ireland’s runners was violent, yet it personified calmness. New Zealand’s runners went about their job in a dispassionate, cold-blooded manner. They knew from the off that Ireland’s first-up tackles lacked the mental will needed to stop them at the gainline and so after only a few minutes the game was up. There would only be one winner.

There was no honesty in Ireland’s performance. Trying hard is neither an excuse nor a foundation stone to take on the All Blacks. If Ireland did have a game plan it became redundant almost immediately and on the back of it the resolve was broken.

We all figured that Ireland had a puncher’s chance yesterday — maybe a good performance from our pack allied with a little missionary zeal in defence and a cohesive effort and we would have a chance. Ireland’s halves, though, reserved their worst performances of the competition for the match that mattered the most. The virus of unforced errors still afflicted Ireland in everything that they did, and you would hope not to find the errors and errors of omission in a half decent AIL side.

The uncertainty principle ruled: nobody really seemed to know what they were trying to do and a team lacking in cohesive effort came undone against a side whose ease of effort was obvious from the off.

This was supposed to be Ireland’s day; this was Ireland’s time — they would either rise to the occasion or shrink from the challenge. We all saw what happened and what is soul destroying was the manner and method and the corruption of same.

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Would one of Ireland’s best performances have been enough? No, because New Zealand have gears and only had to get into third gear to dispose of us yesterday. The mindset of the Ireland team is a reflection of who they are and it is a matter of regret that at the time of asking this was all they were capable of.

Essentially the game was over after only a few minutes, but if Ireland could have scored in the last minute or two of the first half, it might have made the second half a little more interesting. Ireland may have chased with a little bit more conviction. That was not to be. New Zealand scored seven tries, all brilliantly constructed and executed, even the ones directly emanating from Ireland’s mistakes.

It was, however, Codie Taylor’s try under the sticks which did a whole lot more than drive a stake through Ireland’s heart. It was obvious and realistic that there was no way back for Ireland, even before the New Zealand hooker got over the line, but if ever there was a way of rubber-stamping your authority on a game and exposing the gulf in class in your thinking over your opposition, this was the way to do it.

In a match of this nature, stats really never reveal anything of significance but there was one that jumped off the page — 16 off-loads to two, and that was absolutely telling in this demolition.

Kieran Read had a highly effective yet understated game, but his carry from a popped ball from Aaron Smith just in front of Ireland’s posts showed you how the game should be played and how utterly unprepared Ireland were in trying to deal with what New Zealand were trying to do.

Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong are two of Ireland’s most physical and powerful forwards and while they did manage to bring Read down they were unable to prevent a simple off-load. You had the vista of Josh van der Flier thinking that Taylor was coming in to clear out these Irish players at the ruck and van der Flier went in to the ruck blissfully unaware that Read’s intentions at all stages were to get the ball away from the floor.

Taylor’s intentions were to seek that little offload and he joyfully revelled in Ireland’s rigid thinking and lack of ability to see the way the game should be played. Sporting wisdom often consists mainly of knowing what to do next and this was the difference between the two sides.

If ever we needed to underscore Ireland’s position mentally it came in the 67th minute. Joey Carbery, on for Sexton, put in one of those delicious dinks behind the cover. And just as you were thinking what the unpredictable pig skin would do it sat up perfectly for Robbie Henshaw. The centre’s inability and imprecision in dotting down a ball which sat up beautifully for him encapsulated the paucity of Ireland’s performance. The fact that he scored a few minutes later was in no way redemptive. The only compensation was that it stopped Ireland getting nil, which they pretty much deserved.

New Zealand’s out-field backs, some with only a few caps to their name, all played brilliantly and none of them were put under any kind of pressure by Ireland. Richie Mo’unga gave a masterclass in accurate passing and game-management and once again the pure simplicity of getting the ball wide shows you that the New Zealanders are masters of the fundamentals. Mo’unga’s measured kick passing was also just a joy to behold.

Outside of Mo’unga we saw Beauden Barrett in his element, the only footballer I know who can throw a seven with one die. He represented danger and opportunity every time he got the ball. I’ve never seen a player so aware of the possibilities when he is in possession. It was a marvel to behold what he could do and his ascension and matriculation into the best player in the world has been one of measured certainty. Michelangelo summed it up thus, “I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” New Zealand, if they give Barrett licence to play with such brio and certainty, will be unstoppable.

As for Ireland, the post-mortem is for another day. I am too depressed to take out the scalpel now.

Whatever about their limitations, England will, unlike Ireland, front up mentally to the New Zealanders. That will still not be enough.

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