Ireland's quarter-final curse has continued after they were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup in a pulsating encounter against a brave All Blacks side at the Stade de France. The three-time world champions New Zealand held on for a thrilling 28-24 win after playing 20m minutes of the match with 14 men, following yellow cards in either half.
Playing in his final match for Ireland, veteran captain Johnny Sexton was left distraught after the final whistle after his side's 17-Test winning streak was brought to an end by the impressive Kiwis. Sexton kicked seven points but missed a crucial penalty as Ireland failed in their latest bid to make the semi-finals of the tournament.
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Former Ireland winger Tommy Bowe said the whole of Ireland was "broken" for Sexton, who was given a guard of honour by the New Zealand players after the match. “Johnny Sexton is getting a standing ovation. You can see this is a really difficult moment for him,” Bowe said on the BBC.
“He is fuming, he knew this game was here for the taking. I am devastated for him and absolutely heartbroken for this Irish team, they have set this World Cup alight both with the supporters and the rugby that this team have played.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 14, 2023
“The camera is on Johnny Sexton now, he is a broken man. There is a broken country here, so many Ireland fans and unfortunately it is not to be.” New Zealand's players formed a classy guard of honour for the Irish playmaker after the match, with Sexton admitting he was left "gutted" by the result.
“I’m very proud of the boys, the nation, we couldn’t have done any more, it’s just fine margins, an emotional Sexton said after the match. “They sucker-punched us on a few tries and that’s what champion teams do. We knew they were a great side and we fell just short unfortunately.
“It’s been amazing. This six weeks has been a dream - this group, these fans and I’m just gutted we couldn’t do it for them.”
🗣 "That's sport. That's life. You don't always get what you deserve."
🗣 "This is an incredible group. The best I've been involved with in my long career."
🗣 "It's been a dream come true. Thank you."
Johnny Sexton with @TommyMartinVM post-match in Paris.#IREvNZL | #RWC2023 pic.twitter.com/lSRaSa7060
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) October 14, 2023
I can’t stop crying , sad to sexton retire , sad to lose , I can’t believe it
— Zappy (@22Zappy) October 14, 2023
Ah lads, my heart is broken for Johnny Sexton. The sad look on his face in the interviews. Go well, Johnny. You’ve been great for all of us. 🏉👏
— Tom Hackett 🤪 (@tweatycity) October 14, 2023
— Love Belfast ❤️ (@love_belfast) October 14, 2023
It was an eighth quarter-final loss for Ireland, whose variations in attack caused New Zealand problems all game. The All Blacks were simply too ruthless when they got a sniff of the line.
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Leicester Fainga'anuku, Ardie Savea and Will Jordan scored the tries that sent the All Blacks into the semi-finals for the ninth time. The Kiwis will take on former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika's Argentina on Saturday (AEDT) after Los Pumas defeated Wales 29-17 in the day's other quarter-final.
"I am so proud of the way we played. Our defence, particularly in that last part, was brilliant," New Zealand coach Ian Foster said. "It was a real arm wrestle. They're a proud team, Ireland, they really hung in there."
The All Blacks made a nervous start but soon found their rhythm and came away with the first points, from a Richie Mo'unga penalty, after going through 30 phases inside the Irish 22. Another penalty pushed the All Blacks out to a 13-0 lead when winger Fainga'anuku went over in the corner.
Ireland cut the deficit with a Sexton penalty before finally breaching the New Zealand line in the 27th minute when centre Bundee Aki's blend of footwork and power took him through three tacklers. Another chip over the Irish defence got the All Blacks close moments later, before No.8 Savea dived over to take the lead out to 18-10 for the Kiwis.
When All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on, Ireland's Jamison Gibson-Park darted over for a converted try to make it a one-point game at halftime. The All Blacks kept their line intact until Smith returned and Mo'unga scythed through the Irish midfield in the 53rd minute to send Jordan in for his 28th try in his 29th test.
The All Blacks were once again under the pump after Sexton kicked a penalty to the corner in the 64th minute and referee Wayne Barnes awarded Ireland a penalty try from the resulting lineout, sending hooker Codie Taylor to the sin bin. The Irish tried another catch-and-drive but came away with nothing as Jordie Barrett added another penalty in the 69th minute and the All Blacks withstood a late Irish onslaught to seal a gutsy win.
“What an unbelievable game of rugby union. I am lost for words," former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick said. "I knew the All Blacks had a game in them, but it was the way they delivered and put pressure on Ireland”.
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