Ireland head coach Andy Farrell believes it’s the “biggest game” of some of his players’ lives when his side line up against the Maori All Blacks in New Zealand on Wednesday.
New Zealand-born Bundee Aki will captain Ireland on his homecoming, while Ciaran Frawley starts at fly-half and Jimmy O’Brien is at full-back.
Cian Prendergast, Joe MacCarthy and Jeremy Loughman are other international rookies to feature against the quality Maori team.
Farrell spoke the game up, touching on the significance of the clash and is interested to see how some players handle the pressure.
“It’s huge. It’s everything to these players that are taking the field on Wednesday, it is the biggest game of their lives. It is,” he said.
“I know there is a three-game series coming up but these two Maori games for us and what we’re trying to build and how we’re trying to put people under pressure and see how they come through, that is just as important.
“If I can say it that way, I think that speaks it all really.”
The All Black camp is littered with Covid-19 at the moment, with coach Ian Foster one of the members contracting the virus. Farrell reports a few cases, including Mack Hansen but believes the name of the game is to be adaptable.
“We’ve one case and we could have a few more cases by the end of the week, we don’t know,” said Farrell.
“This is the way of the world, isn’t it? The motto of the tour is definitely being adaptable.”
Due to the situation in the All Blacks camp, former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt steps in to take charge of the All Blacks lining up an enthralling match-up between Farrell and his predecessor.
“I’m not sure it’s head to head – I’m sure Fozzy (Foster) will be around somewhere,” Farrell said of coming up against Schmidt.
“Joe is just there helping out being an extra pair of hands and I’m sure just fitting into the system.
“I’m supposed to be meeting him for a coffee on Thursday – I don’t know whether that’s out the question now.
“What can he bring? He’s coming into a system that he probably doesn’t know as well. It’s not his system.
“I’m sure he’s just bringing his one-to-one expertise and giving advice to the coaches and that’s pretty profound, so I’m sure they’ll all try and learn something from him.”