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Roy Curtis: 'The All Blacks found the Springbok answers but it doesn't follow that even the best of the rest will'

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The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Getty Images

The All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between New Zealand and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on September 21, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

JOE SCHMIDT was handed a stark and jolting reminder of the towering, terrifying Everest that Ireland must conquer to avoid another devastating World Cup anti-climax.

Alone of the game's top-tier nations, Ireland have never advanced to the semi-finals.

Schmidt, in what will be his final act as national coach, is unequivocal in identifying the minimum acceptable requirement for his team at this tournament. 

"The only way we can be successful in black and white terms is to get past that quarter-final," admits the Kiwi.

That, of course, means landing a KO punch on either New Zealand or South Africa at the elite eight stage.

Saturday's thunderous collision of the southern hemisphere behemoths offered a chilling reminder of the difficulty involved in transforming that ambition into reality.

The All Blacks were, at times, awesome in victory. In defeat, the Springboks – and the extraordinary Cheslin Kolbe – offered glimpses of their own thrilling potential.

What were the prime messages Schmidt will have taken from a bruising and brutal contest?

Firstly, that rumours of New Zealand's demise have been grossly exaggerated. They remain the standard bearer, the favourite, the team to beat.

Paul O'Connell, working for ITV, put it perfectly: "The All Blacks are not like other teams. Give them just one or two chances and they will kill you."

South Africa dominated the first quarter, their relentless physicality, their huge power and in-your-face rush defence forcing the world champions onto the back foot. 

Peerless

But, as O'Connell emphasised, the All Blacks can slay any opponent in a nanosecond.

Two beautiful tries in three minutes – the peerless Beauden Barrett the devastatingly inventive heartbeat – left a previously rampant South Africa on life support.

In 200 seconds, George Bridge and Scott Barrett finished moves that highlighted how quickly the All Blacks can break even an opponent playing at the top of their game.

New Zealand's decision making, their clinical instincts, their unrivalled capacity to locate the gap, their brilliance in transforming defence into attack, emphasise why Schmidt will want to avoid his home country in the quarter-finals.

Not only do the All Blacks make magic, their basics are so polished (they forced three penalties at scrum time) that to stay in the game opponents cannot afford a single lapse – 80 minutes of precision is essential.

By using Barrett at full-back, he becomes the first receiver off turnover ball, exploiting tired forwards and deploying his playmaking skills to go directly for the opposition jugular.

Allow New Zealand to play the game at pace and nobody can live with them.

South Africa dominated the first and third quarters, illustrating that their renaissance under former Munster coach Rassie Erasmus is for real.

Even in defeat, they emphasised that they are contenders – though they declined to play the off-the-cuff rugby that gives New Zealand such annihilating potential.

Many believe Saturday's match-up will be repeated in the World Cup final on November 2.

Ireland will hope to rip up that script on the third weekend of October quarter-final time.

Pushed, most Irish fans would likely choose South Africa as the more beatable option.

But they are fearsome, feral, enormous beasts.

Intensity

The intensity of their game plan – kicking from deep and then seeking to suffocate their opponents with that high-octane rush defence – asked real questions of New Zealand.

Because the All Blacks found the answers, it does not automatically follow that even the best of the rest will enjoy similar success.

Perhaps the Springboks could be faulted for an absence of attacking ambition.

Twice, Kolbe – the most devastating broken field runner on the planet – created mayhem with his individual brilliance.

Other than that, a robotic game plan restricted South Africa's ability to transform long periods of territorial advantage into scores on the board.

It was a wonderful game, a showcase for two outstanding teams.

Yet, even before Sunday morning's meeting with Scotland, Schmidt understood he will have to take down one of these big guns or Ireland's World Cup will end in failure.

"All year long, this tournament has been our focus. So massively, getting beyond a quarter-final has to be the target.

"We haven't got beyond the World Cup quarter-final in the past. All the other boxes have been ticked."

If Ireland arrived in Japan as world No 1, still they will be the outsiders if the hoped-for quarter-final with New Zealand or South Africa materialises.

Schmidt offers a nice analogy.

Slingshot

"I still don't think we are seen as a Goliath. Goliaths are big teams like All Blacks and Springboks and England.

"But we are not just using a slingshot.  We are a little bit more in the contest than that."

New Zealand's victory means they will top Pool B, with South Africa – assuming Italy do not shock them as Japan did four years ago – taking runner-up spot.

Should Ireland beat Scotland in Yokohama it should be a quarter-final against the Springboks.

Lose to their Celtic cousins and their task will be to halt New Zealand's three-in-a-row charge.

The final word to Schmidt as he ponders the giants on the horizon: "A World Cup is not the best team, it is the best team on the day."

Online Editors