Cursed Ireland and brilliant Barretts: talking points from New Zealand's win

Tokyo (AFP) –


New Zealand dismantled an error-strewn Ireland 46-14 to progress to a mouthwatering semi-final against England, as the Irish were again found wanting at the quarter-final stage.

Here are some of the key talking points from the match at Tokyo Stadium, the final game in an Ireland shirt for both captain Rory Best and also for coach Joe Schmidt.

- Half-back hell -

If Ireland were to have any chance of overcoming the reigning two-time champions, their much-lauded half-back combination of Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton were going to have to play out of their skins.

As it happened, both had a wretched night, Murray overkicking a series of box kicks and Sexton having one of his worst games in an Ireland shirt, with several knock-ons and some questionable decision-making.

In contrast, All Black scrum-half Aaron Smith was electric, scoring two first half-tries that put Ireland on the ropes and shepherding his forwards around the park in a dominant performance.

Richie Mo'unga put in an assured kicking performance at fly-half for the All Blacks, who also had the luxury of man-of-the-match Beauden Barrett acting as a double playmaker, often moving up from fullback to take the ball at first receiver.

- Quarter-final curse? -

Ireland's record in Rugby World Cup quarter-finals now reads played seven, lost seven as they seem unable to win a knock-out game on the biggest stage.

Schmidt said he had focused all his attention on that exact moment -- a World Cup quarter-final -- even experimenting during the Six Nations, but could not put his finger on why his team came up short.

Best admitted there was something of a quarter-final curse weighing on his team.

"Whenever you haven't won one... maybe you put too much pressure on. Maybe we have been looking at this for too long and we got too focused on it that we forgot to win some of the little battles along the way."

- Best's emotional exit -

Ireland's fans reserved their biggest cheer of the evening for Best's farewell media interview despite their captain leading his team to their worst-ever World Cup result.

The softly-spoken Ulsterman was visibly moved as he left the pitch for the last time and was fighting back tears as he thanked the fans for their support.

Asked later how he felt, he replied simply: "Right now, tired, sore, upset."

"I'm unbelievably upset with the thought that I'll never put on a green jersey again except to go and support," said the hooker, again blinking back tears, before leaving to a rare round of applause from reporters.

- Brilliant Barrett boys -

It was the first match the Barrett brothers -- Beauden, Scott and Jordie -- had played since the death of their grandfather, and they wore black armbands to show their respect.

All three put in performances to make their family proud.

Fullback Beauden was man of the match, his 21 carries the most on the pitch and his distribution central to the All Blacks' attacking brilliance.

He capped the show with a well-taken try, demonstrating pace and silky footballing skills to control a bouncing ball and collect for his score.

Scott came on at half-time for Sam Cane and continued the New Zealand back row's torment of Sexton, before Jordie had the final say, a pinpoint pass picking him out for a score in the corner -- from who else but brother Beauden.

- Experience isn't everything -

One of the talking points before the game was how the experienced Ireland back three of Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale would fare against opposite numbers who had fewer than half the caps combined.

But while Barrett, wings Sevu Reece and George Bridge were irresistible, the Irish squandered several chances to score with mistimed passes and were not clinical enough when they did get chances in the New Zealand 22.

"Our attack has gone to a new level," said coach Steve Hansen after the game, while Schmidt bemoaned his team's inability to convert their opportunities.