Preview: New Zealand v Ireland

Date published: June 15 2012

Ireland have the proverbial mountain to climb when they face New Zealand in Christchurch in the second Test of the three-match series.

Ireland have the proverbial mountain to climb when they face New Zealand in Christchurch in the second Test of the three-match series on Saturday.

New Zealand showed in last week's 42-10 rout that they are not suffering from a World Cup hangover and are determined to build on their triumph at last year's global showpiece.

Although the weight of expectation has been lifted with that win, the All Blacks will be expected to put in another polished performance as this will be the first time since August 2010 that a Test is played in Christchurch after an earthquake devastated the city.

New Zealand didn't just dominate the Auckland Test on the scoreboard as several of Ireland's best players were made to look average in their battles with their direct opponents.

Take Sean O'Brien v Richie McCaw, Jonny Sexton v Dan Carter and Rob Kearney v Israel Dagg as examples. The three Irish stalwarts were at the forefront of Leinster's successful Heineken Cup campaign and were hailed as amongst the best players in their respective positions by many supporters from the Emerald Isle.

However, they – like the rest of their team-mates – came off second best (by some distance) when they went head-to-head with their All Blacks counterparts and will have to play out of their skins if they want to restore some pride.

An interesting statistic is that of All Blacks outside centre Conrad Smith, who by winning 50 of his 56 Test matches now has the highest winning percentage of any player in the world with more than 50 Test wins (89.3 percent).

Don't expect much to change when these sides clash at the weekend. Under Graham Henry's guidance, New Zealand gained a reputation for being ruthless once they have the upperhand over their opponents and with Steve Hansen now in charge that philosophy hasn't changed.

“Once again, for us it's about our preparation, getting clarity early in the week and building in intensity so we can have a performance we can all be proud of on Saturday,” Hansen revealed.

“We (the coaches) are expecting further improvements in our game due to the extra training and preparation time we have had together, along with having a game under our belt.

“We are also expecting Ireland to improve, as they are a nation with a 'never-say-die' attitude so what we did last time won't be good enough.”

Although that last comment is true, Ireland will be approaching this clash with great trepidation. Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand is one of the greatest achievements in the game for any country and Ireland are yet to do that in 107 years of trying.

Captain Brian O'Driscoll believes that beating the world champions would rate as the highest accolade after a World Cup win, so the men in green will not be lacking motivation to achieve that goal.

O'Driscoll is joined in Ireland's midfield by Leinster team-mate Gordon D'Arcy for the 48th time in a Test which extends their world record for a centre partnership while the encounter is also a momentous occasion for Jamie Heaslip, who will make his 50th Test appearance.

A less glamorous addition to the starting line-up is loosehead prop Mike Ross whose return should improve Ireland's efforts in the scrums.

If they want to stand any chance of claiming a win Ireland will have to match their host in all facets of play as the home side seldom allow opponents to play to their strengths, especially when they are playing in front of a New Zealand crowd.

If, as is expected, it's going to be a cold and wet match then we won't be blessed with the free-running spectacle which we saw last week but regardless of the conditions this match will provide plenty of drama and entertainment.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: There are so many attacking threats in this All Blacks side but after his hat-trick of tries on debut last week, all eyes will be on Julian Savea. Power, pace and skill, Savea has it all and although it's highly unlikely, All Blacks supporters will be wondering if he can match last week's try-scoring heroics in this Test. With creative players like Carter, Dagg, Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith in the same line-up don't be surprised if he makes another big impact on Saturday.

For Ireland: Ireland full-back Rob Kearney might have played second fiddle to Israel Dagg last week but he remains a class act. Fearless under the high ball, solid in the tackle and devastating on attack, Kearney does everything that's expected of an international number 15 and more. He has the ability to tear any defence to shreds and this part of his game is important in giving his side attacking momentum.

Head-to-head: Ireland's front-row has been strengthened with the inclusion of Mike Ross and it should be riveting viewing when his combination with Cian Healey and Rory Best go up against New-Zealand's front three of Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Owen Franks in the scrums. No front-ranker enjoys being pushed around at the set-piece and we all know the paradox about when an irresistible force meets an immovable object…well, something's got to give!

Previous results:
2012: Ireland lost 42-10 in Auckland
2010: Ireland lost 38-18 at Aviva Stadium
2010: Ireland lost 66-28 in New Plymouth
2008: Ireland lost 3-22 at Croke Park
2008: Ireland lost 21-11 in Wellington
2006: Ireland lost 27-17 in Auckland
2006: Ireland lost 24-23 in Hamilton
2005: Ireland lost 7-45 at Lansdowne Road
2002: Ireland lost 40-8 in Auckland
2002: Ireland lost 15-6 in Dunedin
2001: Ireland lost 29-40 at Lansdowne Road

Prediction: Everybody knows what's going to happen in this match. Although Ireland are expected to be more competitive, and rain is always a great leveller, they will not have enough ammunition to take down the mighty All Blacks. New Zealand by 15 points!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip. 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Declan Fitzpatrick, 18 Donncha O'Callaghan, 19 Peter O'Mahony, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Simon Zebo.