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TOKYO (AP) — Ireland has failed again at the knockout stage of the Rugby World Cup.
But Saturday's 46-14 loss to New Zealand in the quarterfinals seemed to cut more deeply than previous failures — with Ireland now 0-8 in World Cup knockout games.
"We wanted to set a bar that no Irish team had done before," said Ireland captain Rory Best, who played his last World Cup match.
"There were big men in tears," Best said when describing the Irish locker room. "That's what happens when you put your heart and soul into everything."
New Zealand-born coach Joe Schmidt was just as devastated. He had led Ireland to two victories over New Zealand in the four years since the previous World Cup. He'd given them confidence against the two-time defending champions, and Ireland had reached the top ranking in the world going into this tournament.
And now this loss in front of 48,656 fans in Tokyo with Schmidt's tenure as Ireland coach finishing with another bitter quarterfinal exit.
"You carry scars a lot more than your successes," Schmidt said. "And those scars are deep."
The Irish had won two of their last three tests against the All Blacks, starting with their historic first at Chicago in 2016 and another in Dublin last November.
Schmidt suggested that winning the Rugby World Cup had become Ireland's No. 1 target and acknowledged there might have been too much pressure on his team from that point.
"Aiming up for this tournament" he called it.
"This is really what we wanted, and this is what is so devastating tonight," he said. "We didn't produce the performance. We wanted to make sure this was our target, and maybe it consumed us a little bit too much."
Schmidt said falling behind early proved a major problem for his team and regretted allowing New Zealand too many chances — many handed to them by Irish errors.
"Heartbroken wouldn't be too far away for how I feel and how the players feel," he said.
New Zealand captain Kieran Read praised Best after the game for his contribution to rugby.
"I'd just like to echo what the crowd said about Rory, his fantastic career," Read said. "Mate, you've been a legend of the game."
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