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Perhaps we should have seen this coming. New Zealand remain the best team in the some distance, capable of accelerating to a different speed to the rest of the rugby playing world, of finding a gear no-one else can access.
Yet, still, we doubted them. There was a sense that this was not the unconquerable side of years past, that there was an underlying vulnerability to Steve Hansen’s side. It had been exposed previously, twice by Ireland, of course. During the Rugby Championship an early red card allowed Australia a rout; South Africa frustrated and stagnated and secured a draw. Their summer preparations were not perfect. But when the big match World Cup lights came on, with the opportunity to right the wrongs of those two defeats against a familiar foe, there were simply outstanding.
This was a different New Zealand. If you could accuse them of a lack of intensity in those defeats in Chicago and in Dublin, they were positively overflowing with purpose here. They had been caught cold by an Irish team twice, out-muscled and out-worked on both occasions – there were not going to be in Tokyo.
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The All Blacks did not miss a tackle in the first half-an-hour, and just one in the entire first half, and played with remarkable speed and intensity in both attack and defence.
Ireland did not help themselves, either. A common criticism of this side is their monotonous, one-track rugby, with little invention to their attacking play and no clear plan B should the opposition gain forward parity, or, even worse, ascendancy.
It was evident here. Their attempts to work backs moves were inaccurate and slow, and they were too often forced to kick the ball away in their attempts to get any kind of go forward. New Zealand were prepared for the high bombs, and defused them.
Where Ireland had managed to dominate up front in Chicago and Dublin, here they were on the back foot from early on. The return of Brodie Retallick, the premier lock in rugby, meant New Zealand’s eight was at full strength for the first time all tournament. In Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Retallick they possess four of the mos
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