New Zealand face arguably their toughest assignment of the year when they take on a confident Ireland side in Dublin on Saturday.
After suffering a shock defeat when these teams met in Chicago a fortnight ago, the All Blacks are hurting and will be out for revenge as that result was their first loss in 2016 and ended their 18-match winning streak which is also a world record for tier one nations.
That fixture was also the first time ever that Ireland beat the All Blacks in 111 years of trying so the world champions will be highly motivated to bounce back and restore this fixture’s status quo.
Ireland will be determined to prove that the result two weeks ago was no fluke, and their New Zealand-born coach Joe Schmidt has made just one enforced change to his team from the Chicago clash with Sean O’Brien replacing the injured Jordi Murphy on the flank.
If Ireland want to repeat their Chicago feat, much will depend on the performance of their forwards and halfbacks Connor Murray and Johnny Sexton who were both superb in the previous encounter between these sides.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen picked an experimental side two weeks ago and the world champions got what they deserved but he has picked his strongest available side for this Test and he, along with the whole of New Zealand, expects his charges to return to their winning ways with a clinical showing.
Players like captain Kieran Read, Dane Coles, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith will be in the spotlight. These players form the spine of the team and if they play to their potential then the All Blacks should have little trouble in exacting revenge on their hosts.
Hansen highlighted the importance of this weekend’s match and gave the home side the favourites tag ahead of the clash.
“As expected, there is huge excitement and anticipation within our squad ahead of this weekend’s Test against the Irish,” he said.
“While there was obvious disappointment at the loss in Chicago, disappointment doesn’t win Test matches – it’s about having great preparation and attitude, and delivering on the day. We know the challenge we face from Ireland will again be massive and we are going into the game as the underdogs.
“They’ll be full of confidence and committed to delivering on their home patch. So we will have to take a massive step up, to get the performance we are looking for. It is a challenge that this team needs right now and how we respond will tell us a lot about ourselves. As I said, we are very much looking forward to Saturday.”
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Sean O’Brien made his return to Test rugby against Canada last week – after a nine-month absence – but facing the world champions offer a different and much more daunting challenge. When on song, O’Brien is amongst the game’s best breakdown exponents and he will have to dominate this facet of play to give the men from the Emerald Isle a chance of securing another triumph against the All Blacks.
For New Zealand: Recently crowned as the World Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett will be determined to show that he was a deserved recipient of that award by delivering an composed display this weekend. Barrett’s playmaking skills and game management has been superb throughout 2016 and if he’s at his best, it could be a long day at the office for the home side.
Head-to-head: The lineout battle will have a huge bearing on the outcome of this match. Ireland’s Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan held the upperhand in the lineouts in Chicago but New Zealand started that match with just one lock in Patrick Tuipulotu who packed down alongside Jerome Kaino. The world champions have their first-choice second row combination in Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick back, so Toner and Ryan can expect a much more difficult challenge at the set-piece.
2016: Ireland won 40-29 in Chicago
2013: New Zealand won 24-22 in Dublin
2012: New Zealand won 60-0 in Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 22-19 in Christchurch
2012: New Zealand won 42-10 in Auckland
2010: New Zealand won 38-18 in Dublin
2010: New Zealand won 66-28 in New Plymouth
2008: New Zealand won 22-3 in Dublin
2008: New Zealand won 21-11 in Wellington
Prediction: Despite home ground advantage, Ireland will not repeat their Chicago feat as the world champions will have too much firepower. New Zealand by eight.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Garry Ringrose
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Waisake Naholo
Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Ian Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)