Ireland coach Andy Farrell says their quarterfinal date with the All Blacks is “what dreams are made of” after another special night in Paris for his side at the Rugby World Cup.
The world No 1 Irish team destroyed Scotland 36-14 in the French capital on Sunday and confirmed the two quarterfinals from pools A and B, featuring the top-ranked sides in the world in the stacked half of the maligned draw.
Ireland will return to the Stade de France to face Ian Foster’s All Blacks next Sunday and hosts France play the world champions South Africa 24 hours later at the same venue.
This quarterfinal line-up was expected when the pools were drawn nearly three years ago and Irish captain Johnny Sexton bemoaned that it was “unfair” to have the world’s four best sides bunched together in a lopsided draw.
“We are delighted to win the pool. This is where we want to be now in a quarterfinal against the toughest opposition we could get,” Sexton said after their final pool match against the Scots.
“The way the draw was made three years ago, it turned out a bit unfair. It is the hand that we were dealt and we have to be ready for New Zealand next week.”
The Irish have advanced from pool A unbeaten after memorable wins over South Africa and Scotland in Paris.
Their reward for winning their pool is a clash with the All Blacks, who were runners-up in pool B after losing to France in the tournament’s opening match.
“Well, it’s what dreams are made of,” Farrell said.
“As far as a quarterfinal is concerned, it doesn’t get any tougher. The respect we have for New Zealand is through the roof. Hopefully, they have got a bit of respect for us.”
“I think New Zealand are a fantastic side and for little old Ireland to be talked about in the same bracket shows how far we have come as a playing nation.”
Farrell was speaking pitchside after thousands of joyous Irish fans sang another stirring rendition of the chorus to Zombie by the Cranberries, with the players beginning a lap of honour to thank their vivacious supporters in green.
Ireland won their first series against the All Blacks in New Zealand only last year (2-1) and their winning streak hit 17 against the Scots.
The Irish have never progressed beyond the quarterfinals in the previous nine World Cups and the All Blacks, the three-time champions, stand in their way.
The winner would play Wales, Argentina or Japan in the first semifinal in France.