Ireland's Rugby World Cup dream is over following an agonizing 28-24 defeat against New Zealand at the Stade de France on Saturday night.
It represents yet another quarter-final defeat for the Irish team at a Rugby World Cup, who have never made it past the last eight at the competition and have not led in a World Cup quarter-final since 1995.
This year was supposed to be different, though. Ireland are the number-one-ranked side in the world and had topped their pool having beaten world champions South Africa in a titanic tussle at the end of September. They had won 17 games in a row coming into this clash with the All Blacks, including two games against Saturday night's opponents.
New Zealand, meanwhile, were soundly beaten by France in the opening game of the competition and had only beaten Uruguay, Namibia, and a very poor Italian side en-route to their quarter-final clash with Ireland.
However, it was New Zealand who did all the running early on, taking a six-point lead through penalties from Richie Mo'unga and Jordie Barrett before scoring the first try of the game after 19 minutes when Leicester Fainga’anuku raced over in the corner following a lightning-quick move. Mo'unga added the extras to give New Zealand a 13-point buffer.
Staring down the barrel, Ireland responded well and reduced the deficit to three points thanks to a Johnny Sexton penalty and a magnificent try from Bundee Aki, who caught a ball high above his head and beat several New Zealand defenders to crash over. Sexton, playing in his last-ever game of rugby, added the extras.
But Ireland made errors that they were not making in earlier games and New Zealand took full advantage, working the ball out to the magnificent Ardie Savea who scored in the corner with seven minutes remaining in the first half, leaving eight points between the teams.
Ireland again responded well and were given a huge boost when Aaron Smith was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on after Mack Hansen had broken through the New Zealand defense and attempted to pass to Jamison Gibson-Park.
Ireland took full advantage of their man advantage, scoring their second try of the half when Gibson-Park jinked through a gap in the New Zealand defense to leave just one point between the sides at half-time following a gripping half of rugby.
Crucially, though, Ireland never took the lead and fell eight points behind once again when Will Jordan raced over in the corner following a brilliant move that started inside the New Zealand half. Barrett added the difficult conversion to leave two scores between the sides.
Ireland are not the number-one-ranked side in the world for nothing and threw everything at the All Blacks' defense and were handed an opportunity to reduce the deficit to five points when they won a kickable penalty around 40 meters from the posts.
However, Sexton dragged his effort wide and the lead stayed at eight.
Ireland continued to probe and were eventually rewarded when referee Wayne Barnes awarded a penalty try after Cody Taylor pulled down an Irish maul as it rumbled toward the line. Barnes sin-binned Taylor for good measure, leaving Ireland with a man advantage once again.
But errors would again cost Ireland.
Barrett, like Sexton, missed a kickable penalty at a pivotal moment but was handed a second chance just one minute later when Conor Murray needlessly tackled him off the ball. He made no mistake the second time around, extending New Zealand's lead to four and leaving Ireland in need of a try if they were to prise victory from the jaws of defeat.
Barrett would play a crucial defensive role moments later when he held up Ronan Kelleher on the line just as the hooker seemed destined to score a match-winning try. Caelan Dorris then dropped a routine catch, offering New Zealand an opportunity to relieve the pressure.
Crucially, Ireland were held scoreless during the 10-minute spell when they enjoyed a man advantage.
With time running out, Ireland put together one last assault in the hope of rescuing a result. Starting inside their own half, Ireland went through a monstrous 38 phases and eventually made it inside the New Zealand 22.
However, each phase of possession was met with ferocious and committed defending and Ireland were eventually pinged for holding onto the ball in the ruck, giving New Zealand an opportunity to hammer the ball into touch and bring a titanic tussle to a close.
It is a heartbreaking defeat for Ireland, who had enjoyed a flawless 2023 up until Saturday's quarter-final, but there can be no complaints about the result. New Zealand were undeniably the better team on the day and Ireland made mistakes that they simply had not been making.
It is the fourth World Cup in a row that Ireland have been dumped out in the quarter-finals and the fifth time in the last six tournaments. They have suffered a total of eight World Cup quarter-final defeats, the most of any side in history.