New Zealand’s defensive display to beat Ireland was outstanding, setting a benchmark of discipline in a game for the ages that moved them one step closer to the World Cup final.
The three-time Webb Ellis Cup winners produced a massive 276 tackles in their 28-24 win over the Irish that set up a semi-final against Argentina at the Stade de France on Friday.
It was “not so much a scintillating display of attacking rugby (though there were flashes of that), but a brilliant showcase of tackling tenacity and breakdown superiority”, gushed Marc Hinton of stuff.co.nz.
New Zealand Herald‘s Gregor Paul said the All Blacks “pulled off the most disciplined, committed defensive rearguard of the modern age” in producing a scramble defence that snuffed out Ireland’s short-pass attacking game.
“The way the All Blacks chopped down the northern hemisphere giant, putting an end to their 17-game winning streak, must have given their supporters… goose bumps that will stay on their skin for hours,” Richard Knowler wrote in The Post newspaper.
It may be an old adage, but ‘defence wins championships’ is one that strikes especially true in modern-day rugby union where try-scoring razzmatazz is often diluted the higher up the food chain one goes in tournament settings.
All Blacks skipper Sam Cane backed that paradigm, simply saying: “Defence won us the Test match. History shows that teams that win World Cups are very good defensively. It is our benchmark going forward.”
Unflappable No 8 Ardie Savea said the team had been “really patient and disciplined” in the closing minutes of a pulsating quarter-final when Ireland went through a remarkable 37 phases of play in search of a score.
“It could have gone the other way but for us to go D [defence] for the last five minutes was pretty special,” Savea said.
New Zealand, with 100 tackles made in the final 15 minutes, held firm and bided their time, 151-Test veteran Sam Whitelock eventually pouncing for the All Blacks’ 11th, and most crucial, turnover of the match.
“The most impressive thing is the control and mental resilience,” centre Jordie Barrett said. “We’ve got a defence system there that Scott McLeod has built -– we built it basically for Ireland. It was just our system working and obviously some great ticker in that last play.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said “We were disciplined, we held our cool. With Scott McLeod and Joe Schmidt helping him, we have been building our system… and how we want to defend.
“We are making some strides in that space and I was delighted,” Foster added. “One mistake and the game could have gone the other way. But you haven’t been to a World Cup if you haven’t had a game like that.
“That is what World Cups are about -– you’ve got to roll your sleeves up and trust what you do.”
Defence coach McLeod said that “harsh lessons” from last year’s historic home series loss to Ireland had led to a re-build of the All Black’s defensive fundamentals. He heaped praise on the team’s defensive execution and decision-making in the closing minutes.
“The ball wasn’t there to take a number of times and we had to wait for the moment and then execute really well,” he said.
The focus now, McLeod added, was not to go from the high of that scintillating victory over Ireland to a flat semi-final, as happened in Japan four years ago when they went down to England in the last-four.
Attention to detail and raising energy levels for the Argentina game were key to producing a top performance, he said, echoing flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s thoughts after the quarter-final.
“We played Ireland, the best in the world. We knew we didn’t have to be the best in the world, we just had to be the best on the day.”
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: EPA/Teresa Suarez/BackpagePix