NZ thrash Ireland to set up England semi-final

TOKYO (AFP) – Aaron Smith scored a brace of tries as defending champions New Zealand thrashed Ireland 46-14 last night to set up a mouth-watering World Cup semi-final against England in Yokohama next weekend.

The All Blacks, seeking a third successive World Cup title, scored three first-half tries to all but end the game as a contest, going on to add four more in the second period.

Pivot Richie Mo’unga contributed 11 points with the boot to extend to 18 games New Zealand’s winning World Cup record – they have not lost since their 20-18 quarter-final defeat by France in 2007.

The victory also extended their record to 29 wins from 32 games against Ireland, who had won two of the last three meetings between the two sides, but now exit at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup for a record seventh time.

“We’ve been a little bit flat all season,” conceded Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who is stepping down from the role. “It’s just disappointing. We were great last year, we’ve just come off the top of that and haven’t been quite where we wanted to be.”

The All Blacks had a front-loaded Pool B, winning their crucial opening match against South Africa to enable coach Steve Hansen to rotate his squad for games against Canada and Namibia.

Their final pool match against Italy was cancelled because of the deady Typhoon Hagibis that swept through eastern Japan, meaning their last proper match – an academic victory over the Namibians – was a full 13 days ago.

But there was certainly no ring-rustiness on show at Tokyo Stadium as a powerful, off-loading All Blacks side handed out an absolute masterclass in game management, allying superb ball retention with a ferocious, smothering defence for which the Irish had no answer.

New Zealand’s Codie Taylor is tackled during the match. PHOTO: AFP