Rugby World Cup
Smith plays conductor in All Blacks masterclass
Canon Rugby in Focus: Patience was a key virtue as the All Blacks dismantled Ireland
Early in the second half, with the All Blacks hot on attack, halfback Aaron Smith told his forwards to “take your time”.
He wasn’t be arrogant, he was simply warning them against rushing, against forcing their hand, against not being patient.
It paid off, not just then with a try to hooker Codie Taylor, but throughout the emphatic 46-14 win against Ireland.
This was a performance that reflected one team’s ability to dictate the tempo of the match. The All Blacks did that through their pace, relentless intensity, superb (probably superior) skills, discipline and defence.
The latter was simply magnificent. The All Blacks hadn’t missed a tackle till just after Beauden Barrett’s try in the 31st minute - and that try came from defensive pressure.
“They are stifling, made it hard for us to breathe,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said. “When we did have opportunities to breathe we gave them oxygen back. You have to be nailed on against them and we weren’t nailed on."
It’s an old adage but a true one that defence wins you the big games. It certainly played a massive part on Saturday night with Ireland not on the scoreboard until the 68th minute.
And they hadn’t really looked like scoring for most of that time - so suffocating were the All Blacks.
About midway through the second half Ireland held the ball through a series of rucks but when they realised they were making no headway, put up a bomb.
There was no attacking intent behind the kick.
It was an admission of defeat.
They had run out of ideas and weren’t patient enough to keep the ball in hand and wait for something to develop.
"Massive, isn’t it?” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of his side’s defence.
“Defence is 50 percent of the game and probably 90 percent when you take in the psychological value of it. We kept our discipline, and when they carried, we made punishing tackles that forced some errors and then teams start to second guess a little bit and psychologically you get an edge."
Having to defend was also hurting Ireland, who made 137 tackles but missed 29. First five Johnny Sexton was a broken man when he left the field late in the match, as the All Blacks had run at him all night.
Leading that charge were Ardie Savea and Kieran Read, the skipper with 18 carries and 13 tackles in what, for me, was the man of the match performance.
He’d carry that title jointly with Aaron Smith whose two tries reflected an impressive performance of “heads up” rugby.
But it seems almost churlish to single out any one player in what was a comprehensive team performance.
It was also a clever performance by the All Blacks, not only in how they ran Ireland into exhaustion, but also in how they shifted their attack.
Smith’s try in the left hand corner began with Sevu Reece suggesting the attack was heading right, then sprinting back left to take a double-around pass from Jack Goodhue.
Matt Todd’s try in the second half came after Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga and George Bridge moved as one from right to left, dragging Ireland that way.
It was the pace the All Blacks showed to then switch the play back the other way that caught Ireland flat footed.
Pace, control and being effective with the ball - hallmarks of the All Blacks win.
It’s a win reflective of when they smashed France 62-13 in the quarterfinal in Cardiff at the last World Cup.
Motivation was high that night as it was at that ground and that stage of the tournament that France had knocked the All Blacks out of the 2007 World cup.
They were just as keen on Saturday night to atone for last year’s loss to Ireland in Dublin and to make a statement of intent at this World Cup.
Four years ago they were disappointed that they came off the win against France and dipped a bit in the semifinal when they beat South Africa 20-18.
They’ll be wary of doing the same against England in Saturday’s semifinal in Yokohama.
England will be buoyed by their extremely strong performance against Australia, a 40-16 win that will surely see the departure of Michael Cheika as Wallabies coach.
England coach Eddie Jones said facing the All Blacks in the semifinal is exactly what he wanted, but Hansen wasn’t ready to bite ahead of what is sure to be a week of headline grabbing comments from the two coaches.
"We’ll enjoy our moment, it was a special test match, one that the All Blacks, New Zealanders and the players can be proud of,” Hansen said. “We won’t think about England until tomorrow. They’re not even on my mind.”
Not yet, but very soon.