Preview: Ireland v New Zealand
NOVEMBER INTERNATIONALS: Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland host world champions New Zealand on Saturday in what could be termed an unofficial global final less than a year from the real thing.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes whoever wins the encounter between the two top-ranked teams at Lansdowne Road would deserve to be rated the best in the world.
His Ireland counterpart and fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt masterminded his side’s historic first success over the All Blacks in Chicago in 2016.
He is more understated about the significance of Saturday’s game where Ireland will be looking to beat New Zealand at home for the first time, but recognises victories over the Southern Hemisphere giants are rare for any team.
“Look, it’s always an achievement to beat the All Blacks, that’s why we limit ourselves to just once every 115 years,” the 53-year-old joked.
Schmidt, who has been mentioned as a potential New Zealand coach, will announce by the end of the month whether he plans to stay when his Ireland contract runs out after the World Cup.
“I think when they first turned up in 1905 they were incredibly tough to knock over and I don’t think they’ve changed too much,” he said.
“Their depth of experience, the number of centurions, or guys with 70, 80 caps, it is formidable.
“And it would be a huge feather in these players’ cap if they could topple them on Saturday.”
Schmidt admits his side must not repeat the errors that cropped up in the 28-17 win over Argentina last Saturday.
“It’s a results-driven industry,” he said.
“You’ve got to get the result at the end of the day and I suppose one of the negatives of climbing your way up the rankings is that I think expectations change and it’s not enough to win.
“The one exception in world rugby is any old win will do against the All Blacks.
“I’ll take 3-0.”
Schmidt will hope that without scrum-half Conor Murray, who has not played this season due to a neck injury, flyhalf Johnny Sexton will be able to orchestrate matters with Kieran Marmion alongside him.
Should the half-backs gel, Sexton’s battle with his opposite number Beauden Barrett could prove decisive.
“Johnny creates space because of his timing and his acumen,” said Schmidt.
“I’m not saying that Beauden Barrett doesn’t have that. I think it’s just a real strength of Johnny.”
Hansen, who will bid next year to win successive World Cups as a coach, thinks Schmidt, despite his denials, will have a trick or two up his sleeve.
“They’re probably the team in world rugby who hang onto the ball the most,” said Hansen.
“If they don’t get what they want they take to the air. They’ve got a good kicking game. You’ve got to admire all of that.
“It’s winning. They’ll punish you. They’ll find a weakness and he’s pretty good, Joe at finding a trick or two, so we’ll be expecting one or two coming our way Saturday.”
Hansen guided the All Blacks to another Rugby Championship title this year but suffered a surprise home defeat by South Africa along the way.
But he insisted that losing a game can help a team.
“You certainly have a look at yourself a bit better,” said Hansen.
“It’s one of the conundrums, isn’t it, when you’re winning, how you continue to keep winning and learning at the same time.
“For Ireland, that’s something they’re trying to master for themselves at the moment.
“It’s a difficult thing to do.”
The winning conundrum is one either coach will be more than happy to have come the final whistle on Saturday.
Players to watch:
For Ireland: From the excitement of Rob Kearney to the sheer power of Cian Healy there is plenty of entertainment value. But perhaps the most intriguing of the players is scrumhalf Kieran Marmion – given the importance of the role and the fact that he starts in place of Conor Murray. Flyhalf Jonathan Sexton will be the steadying influence in the backline.
For New Zealand: You will always look at the fleet-footed Damian McKenzie at fullback, wondering when he will go on one of his mazy runs. Many pundits wonder why the All Blacks still start Aaron Smith at scrumhalf, when they have a player with the qualities of Thomas Perenara available. Brodie Retallick will be the spark up front – the energetic workhorse.
Head to head: The halfback battle between Jonathan Sexton and Kieran Marmion (Ireland) against Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith (New Zealand) is crucial, but the more intriguing face-off will be in the midfield – where Garry Ringrose and his New Zealand-born partner Bundee Aki (Ireland) will be up against Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty (New Zealand). As is always the case the platform for teams are laid down in the set pieces – James Ryan, Devin Toner, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Cian Healy (Ireland) against Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Karl Tu’inukuafe.
2016: New Zealand won 21-9, Dublin
2016: Ireland won 40-29, Chicago
2013: New Zealand won 24-22, Dublin
2012: New Zealand won 60-0, Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 22-19, Christchurch
2012: New Zealand won 42-10, Auckland
2010: New Zealand won 38-18, Dublin
2010: New Zealand won 66-28, New Plymouth
2008: New Zealand won 22-3, Dublin
2008: New Zealand won 21-11, Wellington
Prediction: It is No.1 in the world against No.2 and probably the most anticipated contest of the last two years. Yes, there is the traditional rivalry between the All Blacks and Springboks. However, this is the ‘curtain raiser’ to next year’s World Cup. The bookmakers are predicting that New Zealand will win by more than 10 points. It may well happen, but we feel Ireland will run the All Blacks close, very close. In the end, New Zealand will win by five points.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Saturday, November 17
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 19.00 (19.00 GMT; 08.00 NZ time Sunday, November 18)
Expected weather: Periods of clouds and sun. Very little chance of precipitation. High of 12°C and low of 6°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
AFP & @rugby365com