The defining moment of this game happened before kick-off, when the Irish fans sang Fields of Athenry over the haka.
They thought they were being clever, that they would lift their team. They thought they were meeting one display of culture with another. It was neither.
First, there were the five elderly Japanese gentlmen sitting behind us who had enthuiastically told us how excited they were to be witnessing the haka in real life. They’d only had You Tube videos, but now they were to get to experience the real thing live. So well done Irish fans, you ruined that moment. But you do you.
Secondly, there is a long history of overseas journalists writing up a storm about how the haka is unfair and out-dated and something something, as they attempt to create a controversy to distract the All Blacks before a big match.
It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. We never take the bait, and all they do is look like whining weaklings. It’s chum for clicks.
Here’s the rule: disrespect the haka, and we will fuck you up but good.
(Most famously, in 2006 the Welsh rugby union were insisting that the haka be performed before the Welsh national anthem. So the All Blacks performed the haka in the dressing room. The 74,000 people in the Millennium Stadium did not get to see the haka that day, but they did get to see the All Blacks win 45 – 10. So you do you, and see how that works out.)
To be clear, the Irish team themselves did not participate in this nonsense. The coach and captain are people of dignity and class and charm.
And also to be clear, the All Blacks were in dismantling mode before they stepped out on the pitch.
They brought a sublime performance, the best I have ever been privileged to see in real life. (And maybe that’s some compensation for the Japanese gentlemen behind me. And they apparently enjoyed my own performance of jumping to my feet after every try and yelling to the Irish fans “We’re the bloody All Blacks and that’s how you play rugby!”. Many high fives all round.)
One moment for me that showed the exquisite skill involved, at pace: Jack Goodhue running his line straight, gave a beautiful no look pop pass that Sevu Reece collected on his finger tips. The point being that it was a pop pass that went two metres wide, not one metre, so Reece had just an extra bit of space to burn past the next defender. From that move Aaron Smith scored his second try.
It was a performance of pace and precision. Always with the aspiration to run and score tries. Tackling low, and inviting the Irish to play the ball quickly, which they really didn’t want to do because they wanted to set the play before pulling the trigger. Solid set pieces that were about starting the next sequence of attack, rather than boof and ego.
Not perfect: a period of ten minutes in the fourth quarter where they leaked two tries and a yellow card. Just what a coach needs to bring them back down to earth.
In one sense, it is difficult to know what this presages for next Saturday because we don’t know how good or bad this Irish team was. They simply weren’t allowed to play. Over the course of this tournament the Irish looked like a team on the wrong side of the slope from their 2017 and 2018 heights.
There’s another lesson for RWC tournament campaigns: get your timing right.