Preview: New Zealand v Ireland
WORLD CUP QUARTERFINAL: Defending champions New Zealand are ready to conquer their nerves and seize the slightest opportunity when they take on Ireland on Saturday, a side that has beaten them twice in their last three meetings.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read said the fact his side hadn’t played since an academic run-out against Namibia on October 6, with their final pool match against Italy cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis, would count for little.
“We’ve trained as well as we can and we’re in a great position to go out there and perform on the field,” said the talismanic No.8, who will retire from international rugby after the World Cup.
“We know how close the games have been over the last few years and it’s an exciting challenge.”
Ireland, under Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt, has been a mixed bag in Japan and were beaten by the hosts before eventually recovering to finish as Pool A runners-up.
But New Zealand is aware of the danger they pose after their recent defeats, including in Dublin last year when Jacob Stockdale’s try from a moment of improvisation proved the difference between the two teams.
“You know the Irish are a really good side,” Read said. “Perhaps they haven’t played to their potential through this World Cup but in a World Cup game, it’s whoever turns up on the day and it could only be a couple of opportunities that present themselves for either side.
“A finals game will certainly bring you a little bit more nerves, a little bit more pressure.”
However, Read said the two defeats – Ireland’s 40-29 triumph in Chicago in 2016 and their 16-9 victory in Dublin, either side of the All Blacks’ 21-9 win in the Irish capital – would count for nothing come Saturday.
“We certainly respect what the Irish team has done over those couple of games but it’s a totally different ball game heading into this one,” he said.
“It’s two teams ranked very highly, good sides, and it’s about turning up on the day. We take lessons from those games and we need to be a lot better than what we were.”
‘Ready to rumble’
Cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams will start on the bench and fellow centre Ryan Crotty misses out altogether as coach Steve Hansen named in-form Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue in midfield. Two-time World Rugby player of the year Beauden Barrett starts at fullback.
“Ireland is in a situation where they haven’t gone past the quarterfinal. They know what it’s like to go home so they’ll try their darndest not to and we’ll be the same,” said Hansen.
Schmidt admitted that Hansen and his backroom staff were “good guys to have a drink with afterwards”, but stressed there would be little conviviality in the lead-up to what he said would be a challenging game for the Irish.
“We’re certainly not going to sneak up on them anymore, we’re not going to surprise them. They are well aware of how we play and what they are going to do to combat that,” said the Kiwi who, like Hansen, will step down after the World Cup.
“I’ve no doubt they’ve got a few things cooked up that we haven’t seen before that we’re going to find really challenging.”
Schmidt drafted in Robbie Henshaw to replace Bundee Aki, banned for three matches for a high tackle in their final pool game against Samoa, at inside centre.
Veteran Rory Best will skipper the team from hooker, with the experienced duo of Conor Murray and World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton named at half-back.
“We’re in a reasonably good spot,” said Best. “Ultimately, it’s all about Saturday – it’s all about which team can turn up and implement their game plan best and deal with the pressure of knockout rugby.”
Hansen echoed Best’s words, saying he had primed his All Blacks team to be “excited, full of energy and ready to rumble” as they seek a third consecutive title.
Players to watch
For New Zealand: In-form Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue make for an intriguing midfield combination – ahead of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty. Beauden Barrett fullback will always attract interest, as will Sevu Reece on the wing. Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf is another much-debated selection. The return Brodie Retallick at lock, despite his limited game time, will pose some questions.
For Ireland: Robbie Henshaw comes in for the banned Bundee Aki at centre. He has a massive task. Veteran hooker Rory Best will carry a heavy load as captain of the team. South African-born Christiaan Stander is a key player in what is expected to be a massive physical contest. The experienced duo of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton will be vital to the Irish cause.
Head to head
You start at halfback – Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith (New Zealand) against Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray (Ireland). Sexton has been talismanic in both Ireland’s wins over the All Blacks. At loose forward, you look at No.8 – Kieran Read (New Zealand) versus Christiaan Stander (Ireland). Read may be coming to the end of his career, but the 124-capped veteran remains a dominant force at the back of the scrum. Then there is the midfield battle – Jack Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown (New Zealand) against Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw (Ireland). With Ireland’s Kiwi-born centre Bundee Aki serving a three-match ban, Robbie Henshaw – back to fitness – and partner Garry Ringrose has a massive task on their hands.
Prediction: You can get some good odds if you want to wager a few bob on Ireland. However, to bet your house on it. The smart money is on New Zealand to win by 12 to 15 points.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Cody Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Saturday, October 19
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 19.15 (10.15 GMT; 11.15 UK & Ireland time; 23.15 NZ time)
Expected weather: Periods of rain in the morning; otherwise, considerable cloudiness. High of 22°C and low of 18°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)