The series is poised magnificently going into the final Test after Ireland claimed an historic 23-12 victory over the All Blacks in the second game – their first triumph on New Zealand soil – to set up a decider at Sky Stadium in Wellington.
It has been a titanic battle across the two Tests, with Ireland the more consistent of the two sides during the tour. The visitors also sealed a solid 30-24 win over the Maori All Blacks on Tuesday, so their changing room will be absolutely buzzing heading into this game.
It is all for New Zealand to do as head coach Ian Foster and his players have come under intense pressure over the last few weeks. However, the return of Sam Whitelock and David Havili will be a massive boost for the All Blacks, whose discipline will be in the spotlight after a horror showing in Dunedin.
Ireland have all the momentum going into the decisive game, and they will be looking to create further history and secure an unprecedented series win against the All Blacks. On the flip side, New Zealand will of course stop at nothing to regain control of the ship, with a series win ultimately sparing their blushes.
There are all the elements for a memorable Test match, and it seems inevitable that Saturday’s clash will be a classic.
What happened in the second Test
Ireland played superbly well in their 23-12 win over the All Blacks last week, starting strongly with a converted Andrew Porter try in only the second minute.
Johnny Sexton would kick a penalty before a bizarre Beauden Barrett try, converted by his brother Jordie, at the end of a half that was plagued by two yellow cards and a red for New Zealand’s Angus Ta’avao.
Porter started the second half in the same fashion as he crashed over for his brace in the 48th minute. Sexton kicked the conversion, and two further penalties compounded the scoreboard pressure on the All Blacks, who scored a late consolation try through Will Jordan.
It was a memorable day for Ireland, who put together a top-notch performance.
What they said
When the All Blacks lose, it is as if there is a nationwide crisis, which has been again evident this week. Legendary former captain Sir Wayne Shelford ripped apart the All Blacks’ performance and did not mince his words.
“We didn’t lose by much but it was the way we lost,” Shelford told Stuff. “The turnover rate, the stupid penalties we gave away. Our discipline was terrible.
“We haven’t upped our game, in terms of our backs’ attack. Our catching and passing, at times, is horrific. For guys of this calibre, I just think it is abysmal.”
All Blacks captain Sam Cane was disappointed with the loss but looked forward to the final Test and wants his players to channel their emotions into producing a high-quality performance on Saturday.
“The drive is massive,” he said. “We were hugely disappointed with what we dished out on Saturday. We need to be so much better. Our drive is the fact we have pride in the jersey, we’re not happy with what we put out and we’ll be working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“It’s about channelling our emotions the right way. We’re angry, disappointed in ourselves, but there’s no point dwelling on that performance. We have to pick ourselves up and shift the mindset, highlighting the things we need to get better at. That’s quite energising and exciting, and then we save those other emotions for Saturday night.”
Meanwhile, Ireland captain Sexton basked in the glory of their historic win, underlining how much it meant.
“Anytime you create a little bit of history, it means a lot,” said Sexton. “It’s a very, very special day for everyone in the country.
“We talk about it a lot, we talk about making people at home feel very proud of us. It’s right at the top of our list.
“I think the effort that we put in last week we didn’t get the rewards. Same effort again this week, it was touch and go at times.”
Head coach Andy Farrell was delighted with his squad after their recent triumph over the Maori All Blacks and hailed the mood in the camp.
“The mood’s good,” he said. “It helps when you win a Test match obviously but the mood still would have been great anyway.
“If the boys had lost tonight (against the Maori All Blacks), we’d have learnt and pushed forward, it’s about growing the group as we’ve talked about non-stop on this tour.”
Players to watch
All Blacks superstar Will Jordan returns to the starting line-up on the right wing after missing out on the first Test with Covid-19 and coming off the bench last week. The speedster underlined his prolific nature with a consolation try in the second Test not long after being introduced. Jordan has been a free-scoring player at all levels since bursting onto the scene, and undoubtedly he will be a try threat this weekend. It will be an interesting battle against Ireland’s James Lowe, who boasts a complete skill set to contend with.
Front-row Nepo Laulala starts ahead of Ofa Tu’ungafasi this week and will bring stability to the All Blacks scrum after producing an excellent season in Super Rugby Pacific. However, the prop will need to maintain discipline while trying to gain dominance over Ireland’s Porter. Nevertheless, Laulala is a strong addition and arguably makes the front-row more imposing.
Line-out supremo Sam Whitelock returns from concussion, much to the relief of Foster after the All Blacks set-piece was shaky in Dunedin. The second-row is a master of the skies, and his inclusion allows Scott Barrett to be shifted to flank, increasing the options in the set-piece. Expect the veteran to fit back in and seamlessly control the line-out throughout the game. Whitelock’s return could be critical to New Zealand’s chances in the decider.
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton was outstanding last week, showing all his experience and class in their historic win. As one of the greatest players Ireland has ever seen, expect the playmaker to pull the strings on attack as they look to play into the space created by their hard ball carriers. Sexton will be eager to control the game through his partnership with Jamison Gibson-Park and their collectively sound kicking game. Structure is Ireland’s game, and the fly-half is a master of manipulating defences within that structure.
James Lowe is a magnificent rugby player who has developed tremendously over the last couple of years. However, the wing has not had much opportunity to show off his impressive skill set in the series and will be looking to one-up Jordan on Saturday. Ireland make full use of Lowe’s rocket left boot as one of their kicking options, particularly on their exit plays, and the same will apply again this weekend. Expect a comprehensive performance from the speedster as he is certainly a try-threat.
European player of the year Josh van der Flier has been a menace to the All Blacks throughout the tour and has had success with ripping the ball in the tackle on multiple occasions. The flanker is one of, if not, the hardest working player in the world right now, as typified by a whopping 22 tackles in the second Test. Van der Flier is exceptionally consistent in his performances. Expect another monstrous effort where the star is in the faces of the All Blacks whilst constantly ticking over his personal tackle count.
Inside centre is an interesting position that can be filled by different kinds of players, all of which share fundamental attributes. This week’s match-up is between All Black David Havili and Ireland’s Bundee Aki, both of whom have been selected in the starting line-up for the first time in the series.
Havili is a very intelligent rugby player who understands time and space within defensive structures. The centre is an accomplished kicker both in exit plays and on attack through subtle grubbers or chip kicks, which will be crucial in providing options for the All Blacks half-back pairing of Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett. Adding to his kicking is a complete skillset which allows him to connect with players in and around the attack. Havili will provide the backline stability, which could be a decisive factor on Saturday.
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On the other hand, Aki is a more traditional inside centre in some aspects; a very physical, robust ball carrier always looking to get over the advantage line. However, the Irishman also possesses an impressive set of ball skills fostered initially during his time in New Zealand early in his career. Whilst he may not have the complete game that Robbie Henshaw has, Aki will mostly be used as a battering ram in the fly-half channel of the All Blacks, looking to suck in defenders and free up the outside channels. Expect the centre to put in a spirited performance and allow Gibson-Park to elevate the speed of their phase play in the first or second phase simply due to his strong running.
Wellington is set for a sumptuous match-up that could be critical in determining the outcome of the game and the series.
The Ireland camp is buzzing and will go into the game looking to take home the series. Farrell’s men will likely fly out the blocks and start well as they have done all series, but will they allow the All Blacks in as they did in the first Test? If Ireland are to win the game and the series, they need to keep the game structured and control the tempo.
On the other hand, the All Blacks will be desperate to win and restore some order in an underwhelming era with Foster at the helm. The return of Whitelock may allow New Zealand to control the line-out, taking some power away from Ireland. Havili’s inclusion offers a more complete kicking game and stability in the backline, which could allow the likes of Sevu Reece and Jordan to show off their running ability. It has been a series to remember where Ireland have created history but never count out the All Blacks who will bounce back and claim the series. New Zealand to win by 10.
2022: Ireland won 23-12 in Dunedin
2022: New Zealand won 42-19 in Auckland
2021: Ireland won 29-20 in Dublin
2019: New Zealand won 46-14 in Tokyo
2018: Ireland won 16-9 in Dublin
2016: New Zealand won 21-9 in Dublin
2016: Ireland won 40-29 in Chicago
2013: New Zealand won 24-22 in Dublin
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Scott Barrett, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Keith Earls
Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: Sky Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (Wales)
New Zealand v Ireland preview
Planet Rugby previews the series deciding third Test between the All Blacks and Ireland in Wellington.