All Blacks vs Ireland, Rugby World Cup: New Zealand rips hearts out in Johnny Sexton cruel moment

New Zealand has sucker punched Ireland in a World Cup classic on Sunday morning.

The All Blacks defended for their lives and were beyond brave in a cliff-hanging final 10 minutes where neither team was able to score.

The Kiwis held on for a thrilling 28-24 win that has broken Irish hearts — with the entire country absolutely devastated for Irish captain Johnny Sexton, whose career is suddenly over.

“I’m very proud of the boys, the nation, we couldn’t have done any more, it’s just fine margins, Sexton said.

“They sucker-punched us on a few tries and that’s what champion teams do. We knew they were a great side and we fell just short unfortunately.

“It’s been amazing. This six weeks has been a dream – this group, these fans and I’m just gutted we couldn’t do it for them.”

The All Blacks avenged a historic home series defeat at the hands of Ireland last year, taking their chances when they had them in clinical fashion at the Stade de France.

The defeat ended Ireland’s run of 17 successive Test victories and denied Andy Farrell’s team the chance of a first ever semi-final.

The Irish had to come back from 13-0 down in the first half and the game was evenly poised throughout the second half with the crowd deafening inside the Stade de France.

The decibel levels went into another stratosphere and even more so when the referee awarded the Irish a penalty try and sin-binned Codie Taylor to leave it 25-24 with 16 minutes to go.

But Jordie Barrett stretched the lead to 28-24 with 11 minutes remaining with another long-range penalty.

The Irish pounded away in the dying minutes, phase after phase of attack, but the All Blacks stood firm and 38-year-old Sexton was left to contemplate what might have been as the whistle blew on his extraordinary career.

Tommy Bowe, Former Ireland winger, said the entire country is “broken” for Sexton.

“Johnny Sexton is getting a standing ovation. You can see this is a really difficult moment for him,” he said on the BBC.

“He is fuming, he knew this game was here for the taking. I am devastated for him and absolutely heartbroken for this Irish team, they have set this World Cup alight both with the supporters and the rugby that this team have played.

“The camera is on Johnny Sexton now, he is a broken man. There is a broken country here, so many Ireland fans and unfortunately it is not to be.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell speaking after the game said: “I’m unbelievably proud of the group, everyone that’s been involved over the last couple of years. That was one hell of a game and somebody had to lose – unfortunately it was us tonight.”

Rugby commentators have been left in a spin at the wide spectrum of rich emotions.

Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick said: “What an unbelievable game of rugby union. I am lost for words. I knew the All Blacks had a game in them, but it was the way they delivered and put pressure on Ireland”.

Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll said: “Johnny Sexton is going to live it all over for a long while, he will play it over and think what he could have done. Ireland gave everything they had, they were just repelled. There is nothing between the sides”.

Chris Henry, former Ireland flanker, said: “The players look a bit shell-shocked here. Everyone is so proud of this team, they have been inspiring to fans here and at home. It is so cruel it has ended like this, it is a missed opportunity”.

The All Blacks turned on the pressure early on, pounding away at the Irish line and it told as referee Wayne Barnes awarded them a penalty — Richie Mo’unga slotted it over for 3-0.

The All Blacks moved into a 6-0 lead near the quarter-hour mark as Jordie Barrett landed a superb long-range penalty from just inside the Irish half.

Ireland did pierce the New Zealand defence on a couple of occasions but their discipline let them down and it was their opponents who were turning their chances into points.

They moved into a 13-0 lead after a superb move resulted in Leicester Fainga’anuku — who was only in the lineup due to Mark Telea’s breaking of team protocol — touching down.

There was a hint of a forward pass from Rieko Ioane but the try stood and had the New Zealand coaching team out of their seats punching the air in ecstasy.

Mo’unga converted from the left touchline.

The Irish needed something and sensibly Sexton, when offered the chance, took the points, converting a penalty for 13-3 in the 23rd minute.

Sexton and Barnes had an exchange when Mo’unga’s high tackle on Bundee Aki was judged OK — the latter was to hit back in the best way possible.

The Irish were right back in the game as the clock ticked towards the half-hour mark. James Lowe’s long pass found Aki who took it high but still managed to break through several tackles and touch down and Sexton converted for 13-10.

However, back came the All Blacks and the outstanding Ardie Savea went in in the corner to mark his 30th birthday in style. Though Mo’unga’s conversion went wide, the All Blacks were 18-10 up.

With perhaps just 45 minutes left of his rugby career remaining, Sexton read the riot act to his teammates, berating them for the lack of cover.

They reacted positively and got a boost when Barnes yellow-carded Aaron Smith for a deliberate knock-on as Ireland were pressing and Sexton went for touch with the penalty.

It paid off as having kicked to touch shortly afterwards with another penalty Jamison Gibson-Park saw a gap and seized the opportunity brilliantly to go over and touch down.

Sexton added the extras to bring Ireland within a point at 18-17 as they into the half-time break.

The Irish had the better of the opening exchanges in the second half but twice were penalised by Barnes — Sexton having words with the English referee on the latter occasion.

As in the first half, the All Blacks proved clinical in punishing them for those errors — Will Jordan finished off a brilliant break by Mo’unga and Jordie Barrett landed the conversion for 25-17 with 25 minutes remaining.

From there the All Blacks held on for a famous win.

New Zealand now faces Argentina in the semi-finals.

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