New Zealand sent out an emphatic message that they will not relinquish their Rugby World Cup title lightly as they outclassed Ireland 46-14 in their last eight-clash on Saturday and set up a semi-final clash with England.
The three-times champions, who ran in seven tries and had effectively secured victory by halftime, went into the encounter having lost two of their last three matches against the Irish but this superb performance reflected their overall record against the men in green, now standing at 29 wins, two defeats and one draw.
After a tight opening 10 minutes the New Zealanders, dominating possession and territory and playing fluent, varied rugby at high pace, took complete control, quicksilver scrumhalf Aaron Smith leading the way with the first two tries.
Certainly England will provide a better test for the holders next week in Yokohama, having earlier thrashed Australia 40-16 in the first quarter-final in Oita. Holders Japan face South Africa, and Wales meet France in the remaining quarters on Sunday.
“The Irish are a great side, we have come up against them before and they have been on top,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “We knew the start was important and we did that well by getting points on board early.
“It was a heck of a test match, really tough out there and we really felt it. It was awesome.”
For Ireland’s outgoing skipper Rory Best, the game represented a bitter end to his international career. He was magnanimous in defeat, however.
“The All Blacks were fantastic. We felt we had prepared well and had a game plan,” he said. “They just came out of the blocks hard and never let us get off that again. They were just really clinical.”
The All Blacks had not played for almost two weeks since their 71-9 victory over Namibia after their final pool game against Italy was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis.
They also had not been challenged since their tournament opener against South Africa four weeks ago and fans were concerned they could be under-prepared for the intensity of a knockout match.
Steve Hansen’s side allayed those fears with a blistering and bruising performance, constantly driving Ireland back at the breakdown and in the tackle and never allowing them to get their close-running game going.
They also forced the Irish into numerous handling errors, particularly in contact inside their own half.
After scrumhalf Smith scored his first try in the 14th minute following a sustained buildup, the All Blacks seized on two Johnny Sexton errors to put the game beyond doubt.
The Irish flyhalf failed to find touch for an attacking lineout, with his opposite number Richie Mo’unga brilliantly keeping the ball in play and the All Blacks then broke into Ireland’s half, Smith grabbing his second from close range three minutes later.
Sexton then dropped the ball on halfway in a tackle and Mo’unga kicked it ahead with Beauden Barrett winning the race to give the All Blacks a 22-0 halftime lead.
“It wasn’t just 22 points, it was all the ball we gave them and missed the penalties which would have given us field advantage,” said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, whose six-year tenure with the side ended with the loss.
“It meant we were chasing our tail and they had so much ball in our half in the first half, which was tough going.”
The All Blacks kept their foot on the gas in the second half, pinning Ireland inside their own territory and controlling possession with hooker Codie Taylor, replacement flanker Matt Todd, winger George Bridge and replacement Jordie Barrett also crossing.
With just over 10 minutes to go, centre Robbie Henshaw gave Ireland a face-saving try immediately after he had squandered an even better opportunity while referee Nigel Owens also awarded them a penalty try and sinbinned Todd for a professional foul.