Ireland’s World Cup dream was crushed as their quarter-final curse continued with a heartbreaking 28-24 defeat to New Zealand in Paris.
Andy Farrell’s class of 2023 were bidding to make history by becoming the first Irish team to reach the last four of the tournament.
But they trailed for most of a thrilling contest at Stade de France and were unable to mastermind a stunning comeback as the formidable All Blacks progressed to a semi-final showdown with Argentina.
Scores from native Kiwis Bundee Aki and Jamison Gibson-Park and a penalty try helped keep Ireland within touching distance for the duration of a tense encounter.
However, three-time champions New Zealand underlined their rugby pedigree, with Leicester Fainga’anuku, Ardie Savea and Will Jordan each crossing to pave the way for a nail-biting triumph.
Eight points from the boot of Jordie Barrett and five from Richie Mo’unga helped the All Blacks over the line as they overcame yellow cards for Aaron Smith and Codie Taylor.
A devastating defeat in Saint-Denis halted Ireland’s remarkable winning run at 17 matches, while signalling the end of the career of veteran captain Johnny Sexton, who kicked seven points but missed a crucial penalty.
Ireland came into a mouthwatering contest in the unfamiliar position of being marginal favourites.
Following a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of Friday’s school attack in the northern French city of Arras, Ireland’s raucous travelling fans drowned out the Haka with a rousing rendition of the Fields of Athenry.
Yet New Zealand shrugged off the hostility and a few nervy mistakes in the opening minutes to lead through early penalties from Mo’unga and Barrett.
Ireland had repelled 30 phases in the build up to the first of those kicks but, despite plenty of possession, were struggling to fully find their usual attacking fluidity.
Ian Foster’s men had no such issues and duly increased their lead when wing Fainga’anuku – playing instead of Mark Telea, who was dropped for a disciplinary breach – exchanged passes with Rieko Ioane to finish a flowing team move on the left.
Ireland were quickly staring down the barrel of another last-eight exit to add to seven previous ones.
A routine Sexton penalty eventually got them up and running on the scoreboard before Aki superbly evaded five failed tackles to touch down and significantly cut the deficit against the country of his birth.
However, as the tide threatened to turn, the All Blacks were not about to roll over.
With five minutes of the half remaining, Savea dived over on the right to shift the momentum of a helter-skelter encounter back in favour of the southern hemisphere side.
Resilience is a major facet of Farrell’s Ireland and they emerged from an intense opening period just a single point behind.
In the aftermath of Smith’s temporary departure due to a deliberate knock-on, Gibson-Park brilliantly wriggled over from a line-out maul and Sexton again added the extras to leave the contest tantalisingly poised.
New Zealand were doing a decent job of keeping Ireland at arm’s length.
They again stretched the scoreboard in the 54th minute when the impressive Mo’unga exploited a gap between Josh Van Der Flier and Dan Sheehan following a line-out to burst forward and send the jet-heeled Jordan darting for the right corner for a 25-17 advantage.
Ireland suffered another setback when Sexton skewed wide with a three-point attempt at the posts. However, five minutes they were celebrating being awarded a penalty try as Taylor collapsed a maul and was sin-binned.
Barrett missed a penalty but landed another to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the All Blacks going into the anxious final stages.
Ireland desperately pushed for a late twist but ultimately ran out of steam to suffer a first defeat since the opening match of last summer’s stunning Test series victory in New Zealand, leaving a distraught Sexton heading for retirement.