16 Nov 2018

All Blacks v Ireland: Another epic coming up?

5:02 pm on 16 November 2018

Opinion - In a week where there's been more than enough happening off the field, the highly-anticipated All Blacks v Ireland clash has had to share a few column inches. However, once 7pm local time rolls around here in Dublin on Saturday night, it's fair to say every pair of eyes will be on the Aviva Stadium.

Steve Hansen said he will be happy to offer his advice to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. Photo: Photosport

Pretty much everybody who I've spoken to this week in Ireland's capital has an opinion on the test, which shows just what the hold the All Blacks can have.

Maybe it's just because they can pick that I'm a New Zealander.

Steve Hansen certainly wasn't acting like this may well be the biggest test of the year at the All Blacks' hotel yesterday.

In between cracking jokes about biscuits and a stomach complaint ailing Liam Squire, Hansen was typically talking about the All Blacks' system of belief and confidence rather than anything Ireland are capable of.

Ditto for the players who fronted the media today. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the All Blacks simply ignore their opposition entirely in the build-up to a test, given how reticent they are to even acknowledge them by name.

In Japan that may well have been the case, but last weekend's test against England showed that they'd certainly done their homework on a powerful yet ultimately limited attacking force.

The All Blacks knew full well that the English weren't in a position to score much more than 15 points unless they were handed try scoring opportunities - and that's literally what TJ Perenara did for Sam Underhill.

Luckily, that was rubbed out by a good TMO decision, but that sort of luck can't be relied on against the Six Nations champions in front of their raucous fans.

The All Blacks are putting out a side with one change, the injury-enforced replacement of Sonny Bill Williams with Ryan Crotty.

The Crusaders' midfielder was one of the main components in the Twickenham salvage-job, and Irish fans will have not-so-fond memories of him scoring the epic match-winner here in Dublin back in 2013.

Yes, Ireland have had a few of their key weapons decommissioned in the lead up.

But they didn't win a Grand Slam by being reliant on just a few players, although the hole Conor Murray is leaving can't really be ignored.

The faith in Murray, who was so impressive last year in New Zealand for the Lions' tour and before that during Ireland's win in Chicago in 2016, was always going to be slightly unsustainable. Now Johnny Sexton will have to do without him in his personal duel with Beauden Barrett, which in effect is for the top first five in the world.

This goes along with the wider battle between the two teams for the unofficial title of the best side in the world and as much as Hansen and the All Blacks don't want to go anywhere near that topic, this is very much what this test is all about.

If they win, which is probable, they can brush it off as no big deal in true All Blacks fashion.

If they lose, which is possible, you won't hear the end of it from this part of the world.


Meanwhile, there's also the good news that New Zealand won the hosting rights for the Women's Rugby World Cup in three years time.

Then the slightly puzzling news that Tana Umaga is demoting himself to defence coach at the Blues, which will be a topic to ruminate over summer.

*Jamie The Benchwarmer Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

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