Johnny Sexton's son Luca accompanied his father around a rugby pitch for the final time, after his stellar career ended in bitter disappointment with a 28-24 defeat to New Zealand in the 2012 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal, and told him "you're still the best dad."

It was a tearful but dignified Sexton who appeared at the post-match news conference after his dreams of a fairytale ending were dashed by the All Blacks in an absorbing contest on Saturday.

After leading them to 17 successive test wins, including a historic series win in New Zealand, many had thought this Irish side would finally break the World Cup glass ceiling and reach the semifinals.