Preview: Ireland v New Zealand
The All Blacks will be out to make it the first perfect seaason in professional rugby when they face Ireland in Dublin on Sunday.
The All Blacks will be out to make it the first perfect season in professional rugby when they face Ireland in Dublin on Sunday.
The world champions have lost just one match since they lifted the World Cup on home soil in 2011 - against England at Twickenham last year.
After four years at the top of the world rankings the All Blacks now have a chance to become the first international team in the professional era to enjoy a perfect calendar year - with South Africa's 1995 World Cup winning side, captain by Francois Pienaar, the last to achieve this with a perfect 10 from 10.
The New Zealand team led by Wayne Shelford, that won all seven of their Tests in 1989, was the last group of All Blacks to achieve the feat when rugby was still an amateur sport.
They face an Ireland side that is coming off a crushing defeat to the Wallabies last week, so it seems that their greatest obstacle is complacency.
New Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will look to put things right this week and send out an Ireland side that is unrecognisable from the one that was outplayed by Australia last weekend.
81-year-old former Irish hooker Ronnie Dawson - who captained the British and Irish Lions in six Tests, a record he jointly holds with former England skipper Martin Johnson - said Schmidt was too good a coach not to be able to fix areas where the Irish were lacking in last Saturday's 32-15 defeat.
Schmidt, who guided Irish province Leinster to two European Cups, was appointed after the sacking of Declan Kidney earlier this year following a disappointing Six Nations campaign.
However, Dawson - who was also Ireland's first-ever coach when he was appointed in 1969 - admitted there was much to be improved on if the Irish are to beat the All Blacks for the first time and prevent them becoming the first team in the professional era to win all their Tests in a calendar year.
"I was disappointed not only by the result but also by the manner in which the Irish team played," a fit and sprightly Dawson said at a ceremony where he was inducted, along with among others Scotland's Gavin Hastings and former Wallaby scrumhalf George Gregan, into the IRB's Hall of Fame in Dublin.
"There were areas where they should have been much better, especially the skill factor and their defence.
"I think for things to go better on Sunday, all the basics of the game have to be executed in a much better manner and if they manage that then they can at least equal the All Blacks there."
Dawson, who when he captained the Lions on their 1959 tour to Australia, New Zealand and Canada had to suspend his studying for a degree in architecture as he was away for five months - a stark contrast to the professional era - said Schmidt would have seen the same weaknesses he had.
"Joe Schmidt is an excellent coach and rugby man and he will certainly know what is required," said Dawson.
"He is more than capable of setting things right in a week and steering the Irish on a good course.
"If he manages that well it will be up to the players then but miracles do happen."
Dawson, who won 27 caps for Ireland, captaining them in 11 Tests before retiring from international rugby in 1965, said Schmidt will also change the mentality surrounding the Irish national side, expressly the excuse for some poor results as being down to a slow process in changing personnel.
"We have been a side in transition for too long," he said.
"There are a lot of excellent players reaching the end and a lot of young players who are not being called up but are getting experience with their provinces.
"Now, though, is time to change the guard.
"There is no reason why the national side shouldn't become a real force. After all, Irish provinces have been performing brilliantly in the European Cup on a consistent basis. It is now a case of transferring that form to the international stage."
Players to watch:
For Ireland: Veteran players like Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell really need to step up and produce a big performance if the home side are to have any chance of competing. Rob Kearney will pose a threat from fullback whilst up front it will be up to Cian Healy to get the pack moving forward at scrum-time and skipper Jamie Heaslip will look to get his team over the advantage line.
For New Zealand: A few players have got a chance to make a statement and will be out to impress coach Steve Hansen. Wyatt Crockett will have to show that he can anchor the scrum without being penalised too often and in the second row Luke Romano will use his physicality to make an impression. Skipper Richie McCaw and No.8 Kieran Read are in a class of their own at the moment and in the backline Aaron Cruden and Cory Jane will want to make the most of their opportunity to start.
Head to head: Rob Kearney and Israel Dagg are both very safe under the high ball and will look to control territory from the back. Ben Smith is still adjusting to outside centre and he will be faced with the vast ecperience of Brian O'Driscoll which should be a fascinating clash. At the back of the scrum Jamie Heaslip will want to show that he can measure up to Kieran Read whilst All Blacks tighthead Charlie Faumuina will have his work cut out for him at scrum-time against Cian Healy.
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 Zealnd won 21-11 in Wellington
2006: New Zealand won 27-17 in Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 34-23 in Hamilton
2005: New Zealand won 45-7 in Dublin
Prediction: Ireland will play with plenty of passion as they look to put things right, but the All Blacks will be highly motivated by the goal of going unbeaten so we are backing them to win by 15 points.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 David Kearney, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Kevin McLaughlin, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Sunday, November 24
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.00 (14.00 GMT; 03.00, Monday, November 25 NZ time)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy but dry, slight breeze high of 9
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)