PREVIEW: Ireland v New Zealand

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 07:57
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ireland will attempt to emulate the Chicago Cubs by ending more than a century of futility on Saturday against a record-breaking New Zealand side chasing rugby immortality.

Chicago has been engulfed by rapturous celebrations this week after the Cubs erased 108 years of torment by finally winning baseball's World Series with a come-from-behind defeat of the Cleveland Indians.

Ireland, however, have an even longer-running tale of woe when it comes to meetings with New Zealand: in 28 matches since 1905, they have never beaten the All Blacks.

Like the Cubs - until this season at any rate - there have been plenty of near-misses and gallant failures along the way. 

Three years ago, Ireland led 19-0 in Dublin only to lose 24-22 with the last kick of the match.

Ireland's no-nonsense Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt is reluctant to see the Cubs' success as an omen.

"Gee, I'd love to believe in omens but I don't," Schmidt said. 

"I'm not superstitious at all. 1908? That's a bit similar to 1905. But I think the similarities stop there."

Schmidt meanwhile is adamant that Ireland's 111-year wait for a first victory over New Zealand does not weigh heavily on his squad's psyche.

"It doesn't have a direct relevance for us, other than the continued frustration that it's a game, and a team, that has been pretty elusive," Schmidt said. 

"But in world rugby, we're not the only ones.

"There's a number of other teams around the world who haven't managed to do it and who would love to be where we are now."

That said, there will not be a happier man than Schmidt in Soldier Field on Saturday should Ireland manage to upset the New Zealanders.

"I would be delighted for the players, and for the past players who can't wait to see it happen," said Schmidt. "And all the supporters who've had a number of visits to All Black fixtures and never had a result."

The odds, however, are stacked against Ireland, who have had less than a week in camp together to prepare for what will be their first Test match since a 2-1 series defeat to South Africa in June.

World champions New Zealand meanwhile head into their second visit to Soldier Field - they trounced the United States at the venue in 2014 - brimming with confidence after completing their Bledisloe Cup series whitewash over Australia in Auckland last month.

That 37-10 win was a record 18th consecutive victory. 

A clean sweep on their Northern Hemisphere tour, which also includes Tests against Italy and France, as well as a return fixture with Ireland in Dublin, would see the Kiwis finish the year with 22 straight wins, an astounding achievement in the modern era. 

The longest unbeaten streak in rugby history stands at 23 - when New Zealand compiled 22 wins and one draw between 1987 and 1990. 

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, however, is not looking past Saturday's date in Chicago against an Irish side he rates highly.

"I know that this Irish side is a good team," Hansen said. 

"Last time we played them they should have won. They've only got better since then.

"They've beaten South Africa this year and had a great series against them. So they'll be full noise on Saturday. We'll need to be full noise too."

New Zealand's preparations have been complicated by injuries to their star locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. Another second row, Luke Romano, flew back to New Zealand this week after a family bereavement.

Hansen has turned to blindside flank Jerome Kaino to plug the gap at lock, where the Blues player will pack down alongside Patrick Tuipulotu.

Behind the pack, Aaron Smith returns to partner Beauden Barrett, the scrumhalf's first start since his involvement in an airport toilet sex scandal in September.

Players to watch:

For Ireland: Flyhalf Johnny Sexton is a match winner with his game management and accurate boot. Centres Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne have served Ireland well in the last few seasons with some great attacking play. Loose forwards Jamie Heaslip, Jordi Murphy and Christiaan Stander form a formidable back row and they will be keen to put the All Blacks under pressure in the tackle and the breakdowns.

For New Zealand: Ben Smith is probably the most dangerous player with ball in hand in world rugby, while Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea's pace and power on the wings can give Ireland plenty of problems out wide. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett and scrumhalf Aaron Smith have been the best in their positions in world rugby this year. In the pack, hooker Dane Coles is a menace when given a bit of space, while loose forward Liam Squire has shown in the Rugby Championship that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Head to head: As always, the flyhalves will play a key role on Saturday and Johnny Sexton and Beauden Barrett are two of the best in the business. The battle between the two scrumhalves will also be an intriguing one - there will also be a keen eye on Aaron Smith after his toilet tryst was exposed. Up front, Jerome Kaino and Patrick Tuipulotu will be up against the powerful duo of Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan in the second row. Kaino, normally a loose forward, moved to the second row after injuries to Brodie Retallick and Samuel Whitelock.

Recent results: 
2013: New Zealand won 24-22, Dublin
2012: New Zealand won 60-0, Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 22-19, Christchurch
2012: New Zealand won 42-10, Auckland
2010: New Zealand won 38-18, Dublin
2010: New Zealand won 66-28, New Plymouth
2008: New Zealand won 22-3, Dublin
2008: New Zealand won 21-11, Wellington
2006: New Zealand won 27-17, Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 34-23, Hamilton

Prediction: Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has selected a powerful, experienced and exciting side for the clash and they will make life hard for the All Blacks at Soldier Field. However, the world champions are riding a wave of confidence and will be keen to continue their winning streak. The All Blacks will win by 10 points or less.

Teams:

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 Jordi Murphy, 6 Christian Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Garry Ringrose.

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 George Moala, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Jerome Kaino, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.

Date: Saturday, November 5
Venue: Soldier Field, Chicago
Kick-off: 15.00 US CDT (20.00 GMT & Ireland time, 09.00, Sunday, November 6 NZ time)
Expected weather: It will be mostly sunny with few cloud cover. There will be a high of 19C and a low of 9C.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com