With two wins already under their belt it would take something extraordinary for the world number one side New Zealand not to make it to the knock-out stages of the World Cup. That something extraordinary would start tonight with a twenty-nine point or more win for Ireland over the Kiwi´s and then end tomorrow with a massive win for Lebanon over Jamaica.
With Lebanon highly fancied to do the business tomorrow, Ireland knew that a loss tonight would signal their exit from the competition because of their round two defeat to the Cedars after disappointing their fans in the nature of the loss.
New Zealand were massive favourites with the bookies for a runaway win in the first ever encounter between the two sides, Ireland being given a forty-six point start on the coupon. The Wolfhounds really had nothing to lose.
Ireland used their Captains Challenge in the opening minutes, unsuccessfully after they knocked on in the tackle on their own twenty. But up against it defensively Ireland did well to defend their line and keep New Zealand at bay.
As the clock moved towards ten minutes there was no score, Ireland were dogged in defence and taking the game to the Kiwi´s. A ball steal from James Fisher-Harris gave Ireland a kickable penalty, and from forty metres Ed Chamberlain kicked the penalty goal for a 2-0 lead.
On fifteen the Kiwis snatched the lead with a step off both feet from Jahrome Hughes to jink in by the uprights. Jordan Rapana added the conversion to give his side a 6-2 lead.
A beautiful cross-field kick from Hughes on twenty went straight to the hands of a sprinting Rapana to score in the corner. The winger skewed his conversion attempt wide of the uprights, the Kiwi´s 10-2 ahead.
On twenty-five the Kiwi´s were in again, this time Peta Hiku chased a Hughes grubber and caught to dive over the line in a single movement. This time Rapana hit the target for 16-2.
On twenty-eight the Wolfhounds got just reward for their efforts, albeit with some luck, as Louis Senior came out of the line to intercept and sprint forty metres to score. Chamberlain was unable to find the target with the conversion, Ireland still ten adrift.
The Ireland defence was tiring when Hughes was again the inspiration for a New Zealand try as he broke through the Irish line and found Hiku in support to go over for his second of the game. Rapana was wide with the conversion attempt, the Kiwi´s 20-6 ahead.
An awful swinging arm from Jared Warea-Hargreaves saw the New Zealand prop forward sin-binned, but on their next set the Kiwi´s were in again, Ronaldo Mulitano taking a long pass and diving over an attempted tackle to score in the corner. Dylan Brown attempted the conversion but was wide with his effort, New Zealand 24-6 ahead at the interval.
Five minutes after the restart, and still down to twelve men, New Zealand went over again with Rapana sliding over the line on his backside and grounding a split-second before sliding into touch. Brown was again wide with his kick, New Zealand having a poor night with the boot.
Back-to-back sets on the Ireland line was too much with James Fisher-Harris stepping through three weak tackles to score from twenty metres. Brown missed the simplest of conversion attempts but at 32-6 New Zealand were into the quarter finals as group winners with over twenty minutes to spare.
Hughes got his second of the evening on the hour mark as he stepped off his right foot and beat the Ireland defender to dot down by the post pad. Brown finally opened his account with the boot for 38-6. Hughes had made the game his own, but he was withdrawn from the action to be saved for the battles ahead.
Ireland had a nightmare in trying to collect a Kieran Foran cross-field kick on sixty-two, the ball going through the hands of Toby King to into the hands of Kenny Bromwich to step over the line and score. Brown was again on target for 44-6
It was New Zealand´s turn to make a defensive mistake on sixty-six when the failed to deal with a kick to the corner as Mulitano took possession but then lost it in goal, Louis Senior pouncing in the loose ball to get his second try of the game. Chamberlain was wide with his touchline conversion, Ireland managing to get into double figures as reward for their endeavours.
The final try of the game game with just under two minutes remaining, Joey Manu stepping through the defensive line to score from twenty metres. Touching down by the sticks he gave Brown a simple conversion, but he missed again as New Zealand too a 48-10 win to the final hooter.
Those attending Headingley tonight and looking for an Irish win were doing so more in hope than expectation as the Kiwi´s lived up to their pre-match billing and took the win to go through the group stage unbeaten and into the knockout stages in a week´s time. Ireland were brave but naïve at times and despite the heavy loss they will take plenty from their early lead and that they were able to score twice against the best international side in the world. Ireland leave the competition, New Zealand comfortably into the next phase.
New Zealand: Manu (T), Rapana (2T, 2G), Hiku (2T), Nikora, Mulitano (T), Brown (2G), Hughes (2T), Bromwich J, Smith, Fisher-Harris (T), Bromwich K (T), Asofa-Solomona, Tapine. Subs: Foran, Papali´i, Waerea-Hargreaves (SB on 37), Liu.
Ireland: Myler, I Senior, T King, Chamberlain (G), L Senior (2T), Keary, Keyes, Hasson, Cook, King, Bentley, Halton, Michael. Subs: Norman, O´Hagan, Rushton, O´Kane.
Score Progression: 0-2, 4-2, 6-2, 10-2, 14-2, 16-2, 16-6, 20-6, 24-6 : HT : 28-6, 32-6, 36-6, 38-6, 42-6, 44-6, 44-10, 48-10 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: Ireland – New Zealand.
Referee: Robert Hicks.
Attendance: 14,044 at Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds.