Rugby World Cup: Ireland failed to deliver 'perfection' when they needed it most
All week long Ireland spoke of the need for perfection.
They were under no illusions, everything had to be perfect if they were going to get beyond the All Blacks and even at that, they hastened to add, it still might not be enough.
They were right on one count.
In 2019 a lot of the optimistic chat around the Ireland rugby team has centred around the theme of being a force to be reckoned with 'on their day'.
On the basis of what they did last year, we claimed that on their day Ireland could stand toe-to-toe with any team. On Saturday New Zealand proved that to be categorically untrue.
They took their game to a level that Ireland are not capable of reaching, even on their day.
The All Blacks were slicker, quicker and more devastatingly accurate than Ireland have ever been.
But one suspects what will haunt Joe Schmidt, who described himself as "broken" three times during his post-match press conference, is not that he couldn't coach a team to the same level as a rampant New Zealand. To replicate such a system is far beyond the capabilities of one man.
What will sting Schmidt the most is that the All Blacks didn't actually need to be anywhere near their best in order to beat his side.
They could have been way off the boil and they would still be looking forward to a World Cup semi-final, that is how bad Ireland were.
Perfection was not delivered, on the biggest stage of their four year cycle Ireland did not throw a punch.
- New Zealand overpower Ireland to reach semi-finals
- 'We gave All Blacks a leg up' says Irish coach Schmidt
- New Zealand were too good for us - Murray
For all that the All Blacks made life unbearably tough, Ireland masterminded their own downfall time and again to reduce the contest to little more than an open training session after 22 minutes.
Johnny Sexton, who at 34 still carries an inordinate amount of influence in the fortunes of his team, was sent out at Friday's captain's run to hammer home the call for perfection.
19 minutes into the quarter-final Sexton went to the corner as Ireland tried to make their first foray into the New Zealand 22, but miscalculated his kick as he attempted to pin the All Blacks onto their own five metre line allowing Richie Mo'unga to keep the ball in play.
It took two minutes for New Zealand to move up the pitch and for Aaron Smith to bag his second try.
It went from there. As the All Blacks ran riot, Ireland sleepwalked their way to a seventh quarter-final defeat knowing they were not going to win.
When the dust settles, what will be of most concern to new head coach Andy Farrell and his team is that Ireland were completely out of ideas once their plan to play an error-free game went south.
Under Schmidt Ireland have built a reputation for attritional, effective rugby.
With Sexton and Conor Murray steering the ship Ireland have played the percentages, with considerable success.
Drilled and disciplined, Ireland sought to perfect their system. They nearly did it in 2018.
Schmidt's achievements of three Six Nations, a Grand Slam and historic wins over the southern hemisphere's big three will contribute handsomely to what will soon become his legacy, but the last calendar year of Schmidt's tenure, culminating in another World Cup failure, have ended things on a sour note.
This year, a disciplined system has become one-dimensional, a system which doesn't allow for the Japan-esque freedom of expression which, while a risk, can produce a moment which can completely alter the course of a game.
Three of the four World Cup semi-finalists have tested Ireland's ability to adapt when their backs are against the wall, and have found them wanting.
Farrell to make captaincy call
Now comes the turn of Andy Farrell, whose appointment as Schmidt's successor pointed to a continuation of the work being done as opposed to a reinvention of the team.
With the highs of last year now a distant memory, Farrell's first charge as head coach will be in the 2020 Six Nations, when the Irish narrative will be one of re-building after a harrowing experience in Japan.
Farrell's first act at the helm will be to appoint his new captain, a decision that will give an indication as to how drastic a change the new head coach believes is necessary within the squad.
Sexton and Peter O'Mahony represent the experienced options, both with leadership roles in the current set-up.
A promotion to permanent captain for either player would be unsurprising, both have considerable international rugby left in the tank despite being on the wrong side of 30.
However, there is a question over whether Farrell will deem Ireland's World Cup woes to have been sufficiently catastrophic that a clean slate and a new direction is required.
Most onlookers have James Ryan earmarked as an Ireland captain in waiting. The former under-20s skipper is set to be a mainstay in the Irish second row for the next decade and, at 23, has already emerged as Ireland's most consistently high-class operator.
Ireland leave Japan with their stock lower than when they arrived, and the job for the new coaching team is to get their team looking forward once more.
A new four-year project can't begin soon enough for Ireland, but try as they might, the scars from their quarter-final in Tokyo may take a long time to disappear.