All Blacks coach Ian Foster reflects on ‘special day’ against Ireland

By all reports, coach Ian Foster was one game away from the axe as the All Blacks prepared for a menacing clash with rivals South Africa at the cauldron that is Ellis Park last year.

But Foster would live to see another day as head coach. The All Blacks defied the odds and emerged victorious 35-23 at Ellis Park, which saw New Zealand publicly back Foster through to the World Cup.

It was a decision that raised the eyebrows of some All Blacks fans at the time, sure, but is two games away from proving to be a masterstroke. The All Blacks are through to the World Cup semi-finals.

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Playing in front of more than 78,000 supporters at Stade de France, the All Blacks – just as they did in South Africa – overcame the ‘underdogs’ tag as they ended Ireland’s impressive win streak at 17 Tests on Saturday evening.

The All Blacks took the lead in the seventh minute through a Richie Mo’unga penalty goal and never looked back as they held on for a thrilling 28-24 win, which sets up a semi against southern hemisphere rivals Argentina.

“I think South Africa was pretty important last year too,” Foster told reporters at the Parisian venue. “This one was up there. It is a special day.

“The world has been talking about these two quarter-finals for 12 months now, even longer. France v South Africa is likely to be the same. They are massive games, two very proud teams, desperate to win it.

“Sometimes the sweetest victories are when your opponents play really well and test you to the limit. We didn’t want to play Ireland with two yellow cards. We played a lot of that game with 14 men but I couldn’t be more proud of the players. I thought we looked in control of it.”

New Zealand extended their lead with inside centre Jordie Barrett nailing a long-range penalty attempt from about 49 metres out in the 13th minute. The All Blacks completed their dominant start to the Test with a converted try to wing Leicester Fainga’anuku soon after.

Leading 13-nil, the All Blacks were well in truly in control. Ireland fans booed and cheered as they looked to spur the green machine onto a much-needed comeback.

Captain Johnny Sexton converted a penalty and Bundee Aki scored five minutes later to, almost suddenly, make it a three-point game. You could feel the nervous energy in the stadium as fans from Ireland, New Zealand and elsewhere watched on in awe.

The All Blacks scored two of the next three tries, but the major talking point became their poor discipline. Aaron Smith was sent to the sin bin late in the first term, and Codie Taylor was shown a yellow as well with about 17 minutes to play.

But the All Blacks didn’t concede. Jordie Barrett pulled off an incredible defensive stop to prevent a near-certain try with the game in the balance – it was destined to come down to the wire.

Ireland built up 37 phases of attack as they looked to break the All Blacks’ defensive line open for what would’ve been the match-winning score with time up on the clock, but it wasn’t to be. Veteran Sam Whitelock was the hero by winning a penalty at the breakdown.

“I actually felt quite calm, to be honest,” Foster said. “They were going with a cut-and-paste attack, doing the same sort of things. We were really patient and they were really efficient with it. It was hard to get your nose in, we were hunting and searching, but we showed patience.

“With Scott McLeod and Joe [Schmidt] helping him, we have been building our system for today and how we want to defend. We are making some strides in that space and I was delighted.

“One mistake and the game could have gone the other way. But you haven’t been to a World Cup if you haven’t had a game like that. I remember the South Africa game [semi-final] in 2015. That is what World Cups are about – you’ve got to roll your sleeves up and trust what you do.”

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