Abiding memory

In a moment that must have melted the hearts of even the most committed of New Zealand fans, Johnny Sexton’s son attempted to console his distraught dad after Ireland’s painful 28-24 quarter-final defeat to the three-time champions. Looking up with concern and love in his eyes, the green-shirted youngster mouthed "you’re still the best dad" to one of the all-time greats of the game who will head into retirement with the gratitude of a nation.

Try of the tournament

Any of Bundee Aki’s five tries could have claimed this prize. The centre was in irresistible form throughout, showing power, fleet-footedness, and a relentless work rate. All three qualities were on show early on against the All Blacks as he skipped past his opposite man, before carrying four defenders over the line. 

Quote that said it all

"Sport can be cruel," head coach Andy Farrell said in the aftermath of the New Zealand defeat. "That’s why we love it so much."

But the final words must go to back-row Jack Conan, on team-mate Sexton: "He’s someone who deserves so much for the sacrifices he has made, the player that he is, the man that he is, the leader that he is. He has been everything that is good about Irish rugby for nearly two decades."

Man of the moment 

It can only be Aki. The 33-year-old headed in to the knockout stages having made 61 carries and nine line breaks, beating 23 defenders. Then when everything was on the line against the All Blacks he stepped it up even further, carrying 13 times across the gainline – the most of any player on either side – to make a total of 75 metres. Undoubtedly the player of the tournament up to that point.

One for the future 

Caelan Doris might have made a highly uncharacteristic error when spilling an All Black dropout with just minutes left on the clock in the quarter-final, but the 25-year-old is a genuine superstar of Irish rugby and a rock around which Farrell will surely look to rebuild. A team-high 61 tackles and five turnovers gives a sense of his influence.   

From the Touchline 

The Irish support lit up Rugby World Cup 2023. A reported 60,000 were at Stade de France for the pool-stage game versus Scotland with a similar sea of green in attendance for the quarter-final. Smiles, songs – Zombie by Irish band The Cranberries was adopted as an unofficial anthem – and tears swamped France. But reports of warm, respectful behaviour, including a mass clean-up operation during the pool stage, mean they will be sorely missed.  

Key statistics

Not only have Ireland not got past a quarter-final in eight attempts now, but remarkably they have not been in the lead for a single minute of a last-eight match since 1995. For the second tournament in succession, they came in as the world's top-ranked side but their wait to get any closer to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup goes on.

Editor’s verdict

As a tearful Jack Conan said, this Ireland side was "full of belief" that they "would be the squad that would finally get past the quarter-final". It was not to be however. The fact they went into the knockouts having won 17 test matches in a row, including two away victories against the All Blacks, will not be any consolation. What might help is that, despite Sexton’s departure, they still have the nucleus of a brilliant, young team. Bring on 2027.