New Zealand emphatically booked their place in the Rugby World Cup Semi-Final with a 46-14 win over Ireland in Tokyo on Saturday night. Remarkably the All Blacks have not tasted defeat in the competition since their Quarter-Final loss to France 12-years ago.

New Zealand, who have won the World Cup on three occasions, now have an 88% win record, having won 48 or their 54 games.

There were two key contributing factors to the current World Champions victory over Ireland.

  1. 1. Kicking Game

New Zealand have drawn huge admiration for their performance, particularly in attack. What may be a surprising statistic to some is that they had a higher volume of kicks than Ireland, kicking 29 times compare to Ireland’s 23. Crucially the variation to their kicking game, aided by dual playmakers Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett, makes them a very difficult to defend, particularly for wingers and fullbacks.

The field map in the output window below will show the volume of kicks by zone for each team. Strikingly, in terms of exiting their own half, both teams have identical kicking numbers. However, it is in the “Opp 1/2” (50m to 22m) where the disparity in kicks is most evident. The All Blacks have double the kicking volume of Ireland in this zone and demonstrates the attacking nature of their kicks.

The Sportscode output window shows that Ireland and the All Blacks kicked with the same frequency, but the New Zealand kicking game was far more accurate, especially in key attacking areas of the pitch.

New Zealand’s first scrum of the game is from an ideal attacking position. Ireland’s fullback, Rob Kearney, positions himself on the end of the defensive line expecting a wide launch from New Zealand.

Mo’unga, seeing the space in Ireland’s midfield, goes straight to a contestable bomb to the middle of Ireland’s 22m zone. Ireland’s right-wing, Keith Earls, attempts to defuse the high ball but such is the quality of the kick and chase from New Zealand’s backs that they win possession from the bouncing ball. Ireland eventually concede a penalty and the All Blacks take the points to take a 3-0 lead.

Fast forward twenty minutes and now New Zealand have a lineout in another excellent attacking position. This time note Kearney’s slightly more central position as a result of the previous Mo’unga midfield bomb, leaving the 15-metre channel wide open. The All Blacks start Aaron Smith at first receiver and shift Mo’unga one attacker wider and deeper. This makes it very difficult for the Irish defence to either pressure or anticipate the crossfield kick from Mo’unga. Left Wing, George Bridge is glued to the touchline in an ideal position to attack the ball.

New Zealand 10 Richie Mo'unga read the Irish back three positing and placed his attacking kicks in dangerous areas to cause pressure and mistakes in the red zone.

Mo’unga hits the kick with supreme accuracy and Bridge catches virtually unchallenged. Whilst New Zealand don’t score on this occasion, it presents Ireland’s winger and fullback with a different picture to think about for the rest of the game.

The last example is in the build-up to New Zealand’s sixth try. At this stage in the game the All Blacks are comfortably in the lead, however Mo’unga is still ruthless at taking advantage of the spaces that are afforded to him. The forwards have mauled effectively off a lineout which has condensed Ireland’s defence and substitute fullback Jordan Larmour has taken a central position in behind his defensive line. Arguably he is too central and has left himself with a lot of space to cover if the kick pass is made.

On this occasion it is right wing, Sevu Reece, occupying the touchline and again Mo’unga is pinpoint accurate with the kick. Reece claims the ball and whilst just stopped short, substitute flanker Matt Todd is on hand to score. It was masterclass from Mo’unga and New Zealand in attacking kicks and how they manipulated Ireland’s backfield.

Another classy kick from Mo'unga - this one was the cross kick to George Bridge which led to the winger's try out wide.

Catch-Pass Skills

The contrast in playing styles between the two sides is interesting. New Zealand look for more ball movement in attack, particularly with their forwards, whilst selecting two playmakers in their backline in Mo’unga and Barrett, affords them the opportunities to move the ball laterally to wider channels more efficiently. Statistically I looked at the volume of passes of both starting team’s players, minus the 9&10s. From the remaining thirteen players, the All Blacks passed the ball 69 times compared to Ireland’s 35. All Blacks forwards had 28 passes compared to Ireland’s 18 and there were definite examples of New Zealand player’s skill level at the line being able to tip to hard running support players which made it exceptionally difficult for Irish defenders to make appropriate reads in short time frames.

Interestingly, Barrett at fullback, had 17 passes which was more than Irish backs numbered 11 to 15. The additional playmaking ability of Barrett takes considerable pressure off Mo’unga but also adds a secondary playmaking threat for Ireland to contend with. In fact, the All Blacks were forced to make almost the same number of tackles as Ireland in yesterday’s game, yet Ireland only made two clean breaks compared to New Zealand’s 18. It is the accuracy and variation of New Zealand’s catch pass skills which makes them such a difficult team to defend (Ireland missed 32 tackles) and was so instrumental in their second and seventh tries on Saturday night.