The reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions have still never reached the semi-finals on the global stage after being ousted in the last eight for the fourth tournament in a row and the eighth time overall on Saturday night.
Andy Farrell’s side more than played their part in a classic encounter at the Stade de France, but could not live up to their lofty billing as favourites as they crashed out on a despairing night - with no fairytale ending for retiring captain Johnny Sexton, who has now made his final Test appearance for his country as he fought back the tears after full time.
New Zealand now move on to face Argentina - who beat Wales 29-17 earlier in Marseille - in Friday’s first semi-final tie back in Paris, with the All Blacks now a massive favourite to reach their fifth final as they chase a fourth World Cup crown in their final run under current head coach Ian Foster, who will be replaced by Scott Robertson in 2024.
New Zealand - showing six changes from their final Pool A outing - dominated proceedings early on, winning at the breakdown and in the physical collisions while punishing an uncharacteristically sloppy start from unchanged Ireland.
Richie Mo’unga knocked down an early penalty before a long-range effort then creeped over from Jordie Barrett, Ireland whistled for not rolling away before a trademark turnover from man-of-the-match Ardie Savea, the all-action New Zealand No 8.
Leicester Fainga’anuku, who scored a hat-trick in the 73-0 demolition of Uruguay in Lyon and kept his place on the left wing after Mark Telea was surprisingly dropped this week for a disciplinary breach, then exchanged passes with Rieko Ioane and registered the first try of the evening after a great chip and gather from Beauden Barrett.
Ireland got on the board almost straight after that score however, Sexton gratefully slotting over a simple penalty after flanker Shannon Frizell was penalised for crossing.
Beauden Barrett got away with possible contact to the head on Bundee Aki, who quickly shook it off to produce a superb step and weaving finish for Ireland’s first try shortly before the half-hour mark.
But New Zealand came roaring back and Savea executed a diving finish past James Lowe in the corner as Ireland continued to struggle at the lineout, leading to an accurate 50:22 kick from Will Jordan that set up the All Blacks nicely once more.
New Zealand went down to 14 men for 10 minutes either side of half-time after scrum-half Aaron Smith lazily stuck out an arm to deflect Mack Hansen’s pass, with Ireland making their numerical advantage felt just before the interval as the Auckland-born Jamison Gibson-Park darted through from 20 metres after selling a fine dummy. Sexton’s subsequent conversion made it just a one-point game at half-time.
New Zealand crossed the whitewash again 13 minutes after half-time, Mo’unga embarking upon a dazzling break after a lineout before popping off for Jordan to score.
The conversion pushed the All Black lead beyond a converted try, with Sexton then crucially missing from the tee after Ioane infringed at the ruck.
But Ireland were undeterred as they got a penalty try from referee Wayne Barnes after Fainga’anuku was caught offside at a ruck and Sexton kicked to the corner, an effective rolling maul eventually brought down by hooker Codie Taylor - who was sent to the sin bin.
That appeared to shift all the momentum back Ireland’s way with the New Zealand lead back down to only one point, with Jordie Barrett missing one penalty before quickly hitting another after Conor Murray was guilty of an off-the-ball pull on the All Black centre.
Jordie Barrett somehow held up replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher as Ireland pressed for a late go-ahead try after the rolling maul, with errors creeping back in - including a terrible drop from the usually flawless No 8 Caelan Doris - as time ticked down.
Ireland’s final attack after New Zealand had successfully retained possession to bleed key minutes off the clock reached an incredible 38 phases before a match-securing turnover from Sam Whitelock started the New Zealand party, with Sexton’s earlier miss from the tee meaning that his side were forced to hunt a last-gasp try rather than set up for an attempt at a drop goal.