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The End Game: New Zealand 28 Ireland 24

by Frank Schnittger Sat Oct 21st, 2023 at 01:02:46 PM EST

A million words have been written about this match and my policy as a blogger is never to repeat any of them: Unless you have something original to say, the best policy is to say nothing. And the truth is: there is not much left to say. As expected, the match was a tight 50:50 contest which could have gone either way, but Ireland simply left themselves with too much to do when they went 13-0 down early on.

Once again Ireland's line-out let us down, so too, unexpectedly, did the scrum. Andrew Porter was anything but happy with the referee's interpretation of events, but there is little enough point in complaining about that now. In the end, the difference between the two teams was possibly psychological: New Zealand had the ruthlessness of a country that had won three World Cups and virtually every quarter final it had ever played, whereas Ireland have won none.

Ireland started in hope, whereas New Zealand were ruthless from first to last, scoring with virtually every opportunity, and some which barely existed at all. They say "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy", and "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth". To succeed where no Ireland team have succeeded before, they had to make the up step to championship level and rise above the game plan and ride the waves of chaos. New Zealand simply started the stronger, playing the referee and the occasion slightly better.

Any number of small things could have changed the result in our favour, and then the post-match narrative would have been very different. But the reality is that the result changed very little. Ireland are still one of the four best teams in the world. Ireland beat South Africa. South Africa beat France. France beat New Zealand, and New Zealand beat Ireland. On their day, any one of these teams could have won the World Cup.

This is not about excuses, but the cruel draw ultimately did for Ireland. The matches against Romania and Tonga were essentially warm up matches and no squad rotation was possible after that. Ireland had the most players of any nation who had played in every match - 8 played at least 240 minutes of the pool stages - and Bundee Aki and Hugo Keenan were the only quarterfinalists to have played every minute of every match. New Zealand hadn't had a tough match since the opening night.

It was a staggering achievement for Jonny Sexton to play the full 80 minutes, and for Jimmy O'Brien to come on and play so well having not had a single minute of World Cup experience. No one in the Irish team let us down, although I was disappointed the line-out gap wasn't refereed more strictly and our front row couldn't achieve greater dominance in the scrums. People will argue that Richie Mo'unga should have seen yellow for launching his shoulder into Bundee Aki's face, but it was a marginal call.

Ultimately it was the failure to convert the second dominant maul into a try that cost Ireland, with Jordie Barrett miraculously preventing Ronan Kelleher from touching down over the line. Ireland ended the match the stronger, with a 37 phase attack unable to breach the New Zealand line. It is a tribute to this great Ireland team that they stayed in the fight, but we have to give New Zealand  credit for some outstanding tackling in defence. On another day we would have won it at the death.

And so the dream is over, but the beauty of this Irish team is that they allowed us to dream. For quite a while we were the best team in the world, with 17 consecutive victories against all and sundry. But on Saturday we were beaten by the better team on the day, and there is no shame in having to admit that.

Irish rugby will now have to move on. Jonny Sexton and Keith Earls are set to retire and who knows how long others like Herring, Healy, Kilcoyne, O'Mahony, Murray, and Aki will be able to continue at the top level. Others are set to take their places: Players currently on the fringes will move centre stage. Players like McCarthy, Baird, O'Brien and Casey in the current squad, and Sam and Cian Prendergast, Jamie Osborne and countless others on the fringes.

The provinces have been going well, and the Irish u.20's are back to back grand slam champions and junior World Cup finalists. The conveyor belt of talent is broadening all the time. We probably won't have more Kiwi's like Lowe, Gibson Park, and Aki or Aussie's like Hansen to help us in four years' time, but our indigenous talent base is improving all the time. Next up it's the 6 Nations, with away matches in Twickenham and Marseille. Who can recover best from this World Cup? I would remain confident that Ireland can stay in the top four teams in the world.

We were spoiled by the weekend of the quarter-finals. Four evenly-matched contests, including two of the best and tightest matches you could ever hope to see.

And France and Ireland in mourning (rugby's expanded but fickle audience in France has now forgotten the World Cup ever happened)...

I eagerly anticipated the NZ/Argentina match, but once again Argentina neglected to turn up. I have nothing much to say about that one.

South Africa / England was a tough match... especially for the spectators. It rained throughout, which obviously favoured England... who know how to kick a slippery ball, and know how to tackle. They surely have some other rugby skills, but they were not on display : it's called "playing to your strengths" apparently, which in their case means eliminating all the entertaining, attractive phases of play.
Another unattractive aspect of the English team is their ecstatic celebration, not only when the referee awards a penalty against their opponents, but when the other side makes a mistake!

The Springboks named a team to play their usual expansive game, but quickly made substitutions to dumb it down to English level : the creative halfbacks Reinach and Libbok were swapped out for the tougher, more experienced De Klerk and Pollard, similarly in the scrum.
Nevertheless they provided the rare moments of running play, and the actual try, which made them deserving winners.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Oct 25th, 2023 at 01:30:25 PM EST
I have some complicated personal history with All Blacks - Springboks matches.

In 1981, it was about preventing the matches from taking place. The Boks were invited to NZ, with the connivence of a right-wing populist Prime Minister, precisely in order to divide the nation. I helped pull down some chain-link fencing, and went head to head with the riot squad with my wooden shield and motorcycle helmet (it turns out I'm no use at all in a riot).

I watched the final of the 1995 World Cup with my dying father (he was a big fan of Jonah Lomu, who didn't play that day). I'm not sure how much he took in -- he had stopped speaking the previous day -- but I informed him at the end that we were very pleased for Mr Mandela.

Oddly enough, I don't care too much who wins tomorrow. What I do care about is that it should be a close, engaging, open match, and as good an advertisement for the game as the quarter finals.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Oct 27th, 2023 at 01:57:31 PM EST
And hopefully a much better advertisement for the game than tonight's 3/4 place match!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 27th, 2023 at 11:43:46 PM EST
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