Rugby World Cup: Defensive excellence vital in All Blacks' upset quarter-final victory over Ireland

Legendary American football coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant famously once said: "Offence sells tickets, but defence wins championships."

Up against wave after wave of Irish pressure in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, the All Blacks have proved that adage correct, taking a 28-24 victory at Paris' Stade de France.

While great All Black wins of the past were traditionally built on skill and flair, this was built on determination and resolve from a side out to prove they don't just belong at the game's top table, but own it outright.

Ardie Savea makes a tackle against Ireland.
Ardie Savea makes a tackle against Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

In 80 minutes, the All Blacks made 276 tackles - including a run of 37 consecutive phases in their own half to deny Ireland at the death.

Coach Ian Foster's side had an answer for everything Ireland threw at them.

For the man in charge of marshalling the All Blacks defence, Scott McLeod, the result showed this team are about so much more than just scoring tries.

More than a year after Ireland exposed that same All Blacks defence at Dunedin and Wellington to take a 2-1 series win on Kiwi soil, lessons have been clearly learned.  

"As we all know, the Irish attacking structure is one that makes you work hard," said McLeod. "We got tested in a number of areas, we leaked a couple of times, but in general, I thought we did really well.

"We had to make 276 tackles last night, 100 of those were in the last quarter and, in particular, that last 37 phases. The most we had to make in this tournament - or attempt to make - was 137 against Italy.

"There's a huge amount of care and a huge amount of Kiwi ticker that we wanted to get the job done. I'm really proud with our execution in that zone, but also our decision making... the boys are really happy with that."

Next, is a familiar face in Argentina. Los Pumas have beaten the All Blacks just twice in their history, both coming in the Ian Foster era.

Regardless, New Zealand's test record over Argentina still reads 33 wins from 36 games played.  

Four years ago, the All Blacks failed to back up a huge quarter-final win, also coincidentally against Ireland, and were felled by England a week later.

Aaron Smith celebrates victory over Ireland.
Aaron Smith celebrates victory over Ireland. Photo credit: Getty Images

This time around, the task for this All Blacks side is avoiding a repeat. But like they'd done with Ireland, the lessons learned from Japan 2019 have been learned, and put into place at France 2023.

"It's something some of us have already been thinking about," McLeod continued. "An answer for me would be the week, and the way we prepare during the week.

"Last week, our detail, our energy and our focus was top class. It gave the players confidence to go out, execute that and feel that in the moment.

"In 2019, we didn't do that as well in our week leading into England. It's not necessarily the opposition, it's the quality of what we put into the week.

"We have to make sure we don't have those disruptions, and we build the week with the quality and the focus we did last week."

Next Saturday's clash will be Argentina's third Rugby World Cup semi-final, with a third place finish in 2007, and fourth in 2015.

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