Rugby World Cup: How All Blacks No 8 Ardie Savea got inside Ireland's heads - Sky
When All Blacks No 8 Ardie Savea got inside the heads of the Irish players at Stade de France, he relished playing the role of a rugby-loving zombie gone rogue.
Savea produced a man-of-the-match performance in the World Cup quarterfinal in Paris, ensuring Ireland's World Cup hoodoo continued and that tens of thousands of their fans returned home disappointed after the 28-24 defeat.
Just as they did four years ago in Japan, when they stuffed them in the quarterfinal in Yokohama, the All Blacks' proved too clinical for the Irish, a team that has never got past this stage of the global event.
Unlike previous games, when the Cranberries' song Zombie was played over the public announcement system to celebrate their team's success, the Irish fans were greeted by silence when referee Wayne Barnes blew the whistle to put an end to the epic match on Sunday morning (NZT).
And it could take some time for the Irish players and their supporters to get the nightmare images of Savea playing like a man possessed as he and his team-mates gave them a bitter taste of southern hemisphere hospitality at the breakdowns.
Savea also spearheaded the All Blacks' attack, making 15 runs. And then there was his kick from a ruck deep inside his own territory in the first half, another insight into his vast skill-set.
“Things just happen and it's instinctive, and I think, that's sometimes rugby,” Savea said in reference to his kick. “I think it was all the years I was a kid, thinking I was a first-five. Very grateful.”
All Blacks captain Sam Cane said he looked at his team-mates before the game and hoped their quiet, focused mood was an indication that they were up for the fight against the world's top-ranked team.
He wasn't to be disappointed.
Savea and openside flanker Cane made 37 tackles, the latter doing the unflashy stuff of crunching into bodies at the breakdown, while the former was more prominent with the ball in hand.
Blindside flanker Shannon Frizell was quieter, making nine tackles, but as a trio they outplayed their counterparts Josh van der Flier, Peter O'Mahony and Caelan Doris. The All Blacks limited Ireland's chances of attacking off turnover ball, and their star playmaker Johnny Sexton couldn't get close to producing his A-game.
Savea said that as a kid growing up in Wellington he admired All Blacks backs Joe Rokocoko and Ma'a Nonu. Like that duo, he knows how to score tries, dotting down for one of the All Blacks’ three five-pointers with a memorable dive near the corner flag in the first half.
In the final minutes, as Ireland stitched together 37 phases, Savea was the only man left from the original back row that started the game. Cane and Frizell had been substituted, forced to anxiously watch from the sideline as the All Blacks somehow managed to block out their opponents without conceding a penalty.
It was replacement lock Sam Whitelock who won the vital ruck penalty as the All Blacks defended their line.
Savea said he was so tired, he had little recollection of what unfolded in those crazy minutes.
“To be honest I have to go re-watch the clips, because I was heaving and blowing … What I remember is Sammy Whitelock getting that penalty. Yeah, very, very happy.”
When Barnes signalled the game was over, Savea, like many of his team-mates, erupted with joy: “Screaming, and just relieved and happy.”
Next up for the All Blacks are Argentina, who beat Wales in their quarterfinal. The semi will be played in Paris on Saturday morning (8am NZT).
The All Blacks deserved their success against Ireland, and enter the match against the Pumas as favourites to be the first team to qualify for the final.
Savea said if the All Blacks were to earn the right to stay alive in the tournament, they had to increase their defensive intensity and execution.
“We had to. That is what a test match is. And the way Ireland has been playing, they have been real class and for us to play the way we did, we held on in the end.
“When we thought we had the game, Ireland were world class in coming back at us. It was a great test match.”