New Zealand star Beauden Barrett paid tribute to his team’s ability to shake off the cobwebs in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarterfinal demolition of Ireland, as the All Blacks returned from a two-week layoff to set up a semifinal showdown against England.
The All Blacks blew Ireland away in their last-eight matchup at Tokyo Stadium, scoring three tries in the first half and seven overall to run out 46-14 winners over an Ireland team that had beaten them in two of their last three meetings.
New Zealand was coming off an unusually long layoff heading into the quarterfinal, after tournament organizers decided to cancel the team’s final pool match against Italy on Oct. 12 due to the expected impact of Typhoon Hagibis.
That meant the All Blacks took to the field against Ireland with no action under their belts since their 71-9 win over Namibia on Oct. 6, but Barrett was pleased that the two-time defending champions showed no sign of rust as they launched an early onslaught to take control of the match.
“Having not played the Italy game, we just had to have full faith in how we prepare on the training field,” said Barrett, who scored New Zealand’s third try and was named man of the match. “We were aware that we needed to start pretty well and see how well Ireland could play with points behind on the scoreboard. It’s all well and good saying that we wanted to start well, but to do that was pretty good.
“We knew we had to raise the standards. We’re aware that they’re a team that likes to build pressure and hold on to the ball and suffocate us, essentially, and live off penalties and frustrate us. We were prepped for that. The coaches were very clear in their instructions. The big boys up front did an exceptional job.”
New Zealand made a flying start to the match, with Aaron Smith scoring two tries before Barrett added another to put the All Blacks 22-0 ahead at halftime. Further tries from Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, George Bridge and Jordie Barrett after the break emphasized New Zealand’s dominance, with a Robbie Henshaw score and a penalty try all Ireland could muster in reply.
Much of the talk before the game was about Ireland’s wins over New Zealand in Chicago in November 2016 and Dublin in November last year, and All Blacks scrumhalf Smith allowed himself a measure of satisfaction after helping his team redress the balance in Tokyo.
“It’s important,” said Smith. “It’s a different team and a different time, but we were really up for this game. Our history with Ireland in the recent games has been very tough games, and obviously last time we lost. I’m not saying we owed them one, but we were definitely trying to put a performance out there we could be proud of. It was an amazing feeling. A lot of relief, and we’re really excited at being able to train next week and prepare for a semifinal.”
New Zealand will play England in Yokohama on Oct. 26, after England beat Australia 40-16 in their quarterfinal in Oita earlier in the day.
Ireland, meanwhile, now heads home after failing to end its dismal record of never having progressed past the quarterfinals, and head coach Joe Schmidt believes the team may have peaked too early after beating the All Blacks twice and winning the Six Nations three times since 2014.
“When you hit a height, there is always a little bit of a drop,” said Schmidt, who will now step down after six years in the job. “It’s not perfect. We work with human beings. Inevitably, when you’ve reached a height, there is, certainly not complacency, but there was an unfortunate aiming-up for this tournament.
“Right after the November series where we played the All Blacks last year, we really wanted to make sure that this was our target. Maybe it consumed us a little bit too much and we got distracted from our normal game-to-game focus.”
Ireland’s defeat also called time on the career of captain and hooker Rory Best, who heads into retirement after 124 appearances in a green shirt, making him his country’s third-most-capped player ever behind Brian O’Driscoll and Ronan O’Gara.
“Right now, I feel tired, sore, upset,” said Best. “Right now, you focus on what’s just gone on and I’m incredibly disappointed. We have a lot of big characters in that dressing room, and it’s not often you get a changing room that’s deadly silent. That was what happened. There were big men in tears. That’s what happens when you put your heart and soul into everything. But you hope that, given time, you get time to reflect on what has been an incredible few years for this team.”