By Patrick McKendry in Tokyo
No final pool game against Italy, no problem for the All Blacks, who simply rolled up their sleeves, thrashed each other on the training pitch, and trusted a game plan they believed could put the Irish under pressure.
It was a formula, as All Blacks fullback Beauden Barrett explained later, which could hardly have gone better. In the end, the cancellation of the Italy game due to Typhoon Hagibis may have worked in the All Blacks' favour; it's allowed them to freshen up and they looked remarkably energetic during their stunning 46-14 quarter-final win over Ireland at Tokyo Stadium.
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England are in a similar position after their final pool match against France was cancelled. Next Saturday's semifinal between the two old foes in Yokohama, after the English thrashed the Wallabies in their quarter-final, has the makings of a classic.
"Having not played the Italy game we just had to have full faith in how we prepared on the training field," Barrett said afterwards. "We were aware we needed to start pretty well and see how well Ireland could play when they were behind on the scoreboard.
"Our trainer and coaches have been putting us under pressure at training and we've been working really hard. We felt pretty good out there tonight. We knew if we didn't get it right we'd be going home. It is a pretty satisfying result."
Barrett, with a try, try assist and 21 carries – and acknowledged as the official man of the match – was as immaculate as usual. But his accuracy and quality was reflected throughout every one of Steve Hansen's men. It was a stunning performance and it started with an utter ruthlessness on defence. In the first half they missed only one tackle. Overall they had a tackle success rate of 93 per cent. Ireland's was 83 per cent.
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"We knew we had to raise the standards," Barrett said. "We were aware they're a team who like to build pressure and hold on to the ball and suffocate us essentially and live off penalties and frustrate us. We were prepared for that. [Defence coach] Stormy (Scott) McLeod was pretty clear on his instructions and we were all aligned on that plan. The boys up front did an exceptional job because they're very direct and try inch by inch to get in behind you and apply that pressure.
"We haven't looked at England yet. Obviously England are a different beast to Ireland so we'll have to prepare accordingly and find out how we can attack them. So that's the exciting part; building towards England."
Wings George Bridge and Sevu Reece were again constantly in the action – the former carrying brilliantly and scoring a deserved try, the latter getting close to the line but impressing too with his defence. The 22-year-old Reece, for all his apparent inexperience, is rarely caught out on defence because his anticipation is second to none.
"It's exciting when you get the ball to them in space and see what they do," Barrett said of the Crusaders pair. "Hopefully I can keep distributing well and give them plenty of time to attack on the front foot. They're world class when they get that."
As for halfback Aaron Smith, who scored two tries in the first quarter, Barrett said: "He took his opportunities. The thing I love about him is that he's the best passer in the world. He just focuses on his strengths and that's passing and kicking. It was great to see him get across the line and get a couple of dots because a lot of his work goes unnoticed."