POWER RANKINGS SPECIAL EDITION
Nine Rugby World Cups played and this will be the ninth quarter-final the All Blacks have qualified for, a run of success that is taken for granted. New Zealand has never met Ireland at this stage before, but they have met some familiar foes more than once.
Today we rank the eight previous quarter-finals involving New Zealand, from worst through to best. The biggest factor is performance of the All Blacks, but also taken into account are the quality of the match and venue, and the sense of occasion. As a footnote, we'll mention the best quarter-final from each tournament.
8. New Zealand 29 Canada 13
This was peak Canada, driven by warriors like Al Charron and Gordon Mackinnon in the pack, but it was far from peak All Blacks who were an ageing and unhappy mob split along Auckland v The Rest lines.
At a wet and windy and architecturally uninspiring multi-purpose venue known then as Stade du Nord (now Stadium Lille-Metropole), the result was never in doubt and the match failed to rise even to the lack of occasion.
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Most of the All Black intrigue centred around the No 15 jersey, where John Timu was employed following injuries to Terry Wright and Shayne Philpott. Kieran Crowley, a controversial omission from the original squad, was flown over on standby. Timu scored two tries, the second proving the highlight of the match.
While the result was all that mattered, it was obvious that the difficulty the All Blacks had in dispatching a team with players from such clubs as Oak Bay Castaways, Ottawa Irish and Velox Valhallians did not bode well for the semifinal.
Best QF: The England-France quarter-final in Paris refereed by New Zealand's Dave Bishop was pure evil but it came nowhere close to Australia's last-gasp 19-18 victory over Ireland at Lansdowne Rd. After a long-range Gordon Hamilton try that nearly caused the collapse of the creaking stadium, Ireland looked to have secured a famous win. Michael Lynagh had other ideas.
7. New Zealand 18 France 20
There were a lot of things wrong with this match, principally the fact that at a World Cup held in France, the All Blacks met the "hosts" in Cardiff – about as far from Paris one can get on the civic sensibilities scale – in this knockout match.
What tends to have been forgotten in time is that the All Blacks were not awful in this match. Dumb, yes. Poorly selected, yes. But not awful.
Leading 13-0 with halftime up on the clock, the All Blacks would have felt well satisfied with their work and perhaps a little disappointed that they had left some points on the park. Perhaps that's why Dan Carter of all people tried a defensive crossfield kick that the French intercepted and turned into three points after the siren.
In the second half things got plain weird.
The All Blacks had multiple chances but couldn't put the French, who, led by Thierry Dusautoir, tackled magnificently and somehow legally prevented the attacking team getting any quick ball in the process.
Meanwhile Luke McAlister saw yellow and the French scored with the extra man. Later, with their one fluent breakout, they scored again, aided by a pass from Freddie Michalak that was so far forward you can see several All Blacks waiting for a peep from Wayne Barnes' whistle.
He was not in that sort of mood, though.
The All Blacks still had time to win but Richie McCaw lacked the leadership he would soon possess in spades to engineer it.
The All Blacks were instead left bereft, forced to wander around Cardiff's heaving Millennium Stadium wearing the worst jerseys Adidas have ever made.
Best QF: Truth be told, this was a miserable, kickfest of a World Cup. Three of the quarters were close but largely wretched affairs. At least Fiji spun the ball and pushed South Africa at times during their 20-37 loss at Marseille's sun-splashed Stade Velodrome.
6. New Zealand 30 Scotland 3
Lancaster Park, 1987
The All Blacks were so much better than any other team at this World Cup that their matches were less contests than they were exhibitions.
They were "professional" at a time when the game and the attitudes of its administrators were strictly amateur.
So while we look back at this as a golden age, the tournament really only lit up when France and the Wallabies engaged in one of the all-time great matches in the semifinal (at a laughably inadequate Concord Oval, now the home ground of West Harbour RFC).
This match, played in front of a decent crowd of 30-odd thousand, would be the first of three New Zealand v Scotland quarter-finals. It was the least tasty.
Halfway through the first half Grant Fox had scored two penalties to Gavin Hastings' one, but that was as close as it got.
Alan Whetton and John Gallagher scored well-constructed tries and Fox's kicking kept the scoreboard ticking.
The pack was always dominant.
It was all a bit easy to ever be considered a classic.
Best QF: None of the quarters was close, but the Fiji-France clash in front of a paltry 17,000 at Eden Park was at least entertaining. Two tries to Laurent Rodriguez helped steer the Tricolores to a 31-17 win.
5. New Zealand 33 Argentina 10
Eden Park, 2011
Keep calm, Piri's on… or something like that.
Coach Graham Henry and his staff would have been feeling a little anxious leading into this. Henry and co had never won a World Cup quarter-final, you may have heard, and they were still constructing a game plan to deal with the loss of talisman first-five Carter (to say nothing of the fact that captain McCaw was playing on one foot).
Back-up Colin Slade got the nod for this one but wrecked his groin and Aaron Cruden was brought on to replace him while Piri Weepu took over kicking duties.
Seven penalties and a commanding, clever performance from the base later, Weepu emerged as the hero the All Blacks needed. It was an iconic performance in a game that frankly never rose above the mediocre, despite the Argentine's obvious industry.
The score flattered the All Blacks but Henry would not have cared a jot.
Best QF: Australia and South Africa played out an 11-9 grind in Wellington that had the Boks seething at NZ ref Bryce Lawrence, but the best quarter was the barely functional France beating a ragged England 19-12. France led 16-0 at halftime before England launched a furious, futile second half assault.
4. New Zealand 30 Scotland 18
By rights, a quarter-final clash against a team playing at home in front of a packed Murrayfield should be a spot or two higher but such was the ridiculous format adopted in this poorly run tournament that there was only ever going to be one winner.
New Zealand had 10 days between their final pool match and this one, so they jetted off to the French Riviera, much to the disgust of some traditionalists who believed they should have flogged themselves on the training grounds Edinburgh.
Scotland, meanwhile, had to play a playoff against Samoa to see who would advance to the quarters and had just four days to prepare.
They gave a good account of themselves, with Glenn Metcalfe, Gordon Simpson and Martin Leslie – the so-called Kilted Kiwis – all with a point to prove. Martin's brother John, was injured.
New Zealand had too much class, however, with star outside backs Tana Umaga (2), Lomu and Jeff Wilson all dotting down.
The All Blacks led 25-3 at halftime and although the Scots fought valiantly, the match was as good as done.
Best QF: It was by no means a great game, but South Africa's 44-21 win over England was remarkable – some 65 points and just two tries. Jannie de Beer kicked an astonishing 34 points with two conversions, five penalties and five drop goals. Paul Grayson added six penalties for England, with a young Jonny Wilkinson kicking another. Crazy.
3. New Zealand 29 South Africa 9
The All Blacks had laid waste to South Africa in Pretoria 52-16 earlier in the year, the first leg of a golden fortnight that also saw them destroy the Wallabies 50-21 at Sydney.
The Wallabies might have been playing possum but the Springboks weren't. They just were not a very good side. It would soon emerge that coach Rudolf Straeuli's idea of a good player was not just one who could catch, tackle and kick, but also one prepared to stand bollock naked in a freezing pond in the dead of night.
This was the Boks at a low ebb, no doubt, but it shouldn't take away from the fact this was a clinical All Black performance under the dome in Melbourne's docklands before a crowd that fell about 10,000 short of capacity (as an aside, some in Victorian rugby have never forgiven the All Blacks for their failure to promote the sport while based in Melbourne for this World Cup, a charge they were unquestionably guilty of).
Despite facing a big aggressive pack that included Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the All Blacks dominated the close exchanges from start to finish and the halves of Justin Marshall and Carlos Spencer benefited from the extra space.
The game will be best remembered for Keven Mealamu's solo try where he emerged from a breakdown with the ball, scooted between/under two Bok forwards and ran 20m unopposed.
Best QF: France's 43-21 demolition of Ireland was one of those magical nights when it all came together for the Gauls. Ireland commiserated with a massive bender to see Keith Wood off the World Cup stage in style and it's tempting to think France did likewise because as good as they were in this match, they were as pathetic in the semifinal against England.
2. New Zealand 48 Scotland 30
This was an entertaining old romp by one of the most explosively talented teams assembled, but it was played out in front of a dire crowd of just 28,000 at cavernous Loftus Versfeld. For that reason alone, it could never be No 1.
The two pivotal figures at this World Cup were Nelson Mandela and Jonah Lomu and only one was in attendance this day.
The Scots attempts to corral the big left wing were earnest, yet hilarious. Time and again the men in royal blue (the All Blacks were in white) would swarm on Lomu and time and again he would swat them off with disdain.
He made his opposite Craig Joiner's life a misery, kept putting his palm in Scott Hastings', a noted defender, face and once sent his older brother Gavin reeling backwards.
It was a tour de force try-scoring performance in a tournament full of them.
Walter Little scored twice, his partner in midfield crime Frank Bunce, dotted once. Andrew Mehrtens and hooker/wing Sean Fitzpatrick also added five pointers.
It was the concession of three tries and 30 points that was the conversation starter, however. The All Blacks hadn't conceded 30 since the day Greg Cornelsen went mad at Eden Park in 1978. Most of the points came late, but heading into a semifinal with England, it gave coach Laurie Mains something to grizzle about.
Best QF: There is always something about an Ashes test. This one, decided in England's favour 25-22 by the last act of the game, a Rob Andrew drop goal, stung the favoured Wallabies.
1. New Zealand 62 France 13
The narrative could hardly have been scripted more obviously if the screenwriter had used a neon pen. The All Blacks returning to play France in a quarter-final at Cardiff, the protagonists and scene of the New Zealand's greatest World Cup disaster.
It went a bit differently.
Big Brodie Retallick began the rout with a chargedown try; before the hour was up Julian Savea had scored a sensational hat-trick; and substitute halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow put a bow on it with two late tries.
Carter converted seven of nine tries and added a penalty.
There is any number of superlatives you could use for this performance and very few would be considered hyperbole.
Best QF: Australia 35-34 over Scotland and if you can't remember how that game ended you're really not that into rugby, so you would not have made it down this far.