New Zealand v Ireland preview: All Blacks to wrap up series despite improved Irish performance

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

The All Blacks head into the second Test of the series with a solid win under their belt after claiming the first clash 42-19 in Auckland. The scoreline was flattering for coach Ian Foster’s men, but there are most certainly aspects of the game to work on.

Normality returns for New Zealand as Foster, assistant coach John Plumtree and several players have recovered from Covid-19, and they will be looking to maximise being on the ground with the team again.

However, losing veteran Sam Whitelock is a big blow for the side, particularly at line-out time.

From an Irish standpoint, it is not all doom and gloom after coach Andy Farrell’s side had the All Blacks on the ropes at times during the opening quarter of the first Test. Johnny Sexton going off for a suspected concussion was a turning point. Interestingly, despite not returning to the field after a Head Injury Assessment (HIA), the Irish captain has been cleared to play this weekend.

With the series poised brilliantly, the second Test in Dunedin will be viewed as a must-win from both sides. The All Blacks will be looking to stamp home their authority and claim the series, whilst Ireland will desperately want to keep the series alive with a win on Saturday.

What happened in the first Test

Last weekend, the first Test at Eden Park ended 42-19 in favour of the All Blacks. However, the initial period of the game belonged to the Irish, who were out of the blocks quickly with a fifth-minute Keith Earls try.

It looked to be Ireland’s day, but the All Blacks showed their teeth, scoring four tries in the second quarter through Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea and Ardie Savea, taking all the momentum into half-time.

Savea completed his brace in the 56th minute before Pita Gus Sowakula scored a 70th-minute try on his Test debut. Jordie Barrett was exceptional off the tee kicking six conversions. Ireland’s Bundee Aki scored a consolation try in the 70th minute to improve the scoreline ever so slightly.

What they said

All Blacks captain Sam Cane was happy with a good win in the first Test but expects Ireland to bounce back strongly in the second fixture. However, the flank admits his side did well to stem the Irish tide in the first 20 minutes.

“We were lucky we managed to have a real good 20 minutes in the back end of the first half when we put some points on, but if you look at the rest of the Test it was fairly even,” he said.

“We know they’ll come out and will have lifted their game from last week.”

All Blacks number eight Ardie Savea shared a similar sentiment to his captain, being delighted with the win but expecting a response from the Irish side.

“To come out and get a performance like that, it’s pretty special. We’ll celebrate tonight but we know it’s going to be even tougher next week. There were moments that game the Irish put us under immense pressure. We were getting smacked those moments and we need to see if we can nullify that,” Savea said.

The availability of Ireland captain Sexton has been a massive talking point this week, but much to the relief of assistant coach Mike Catt, the veteran, has been cleared to play.

“Johnny’s fit, Johnny has passed every Test that he needs to pass, so from our point of view he’s good to go,” Catt said.

Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong admits there is a need for his side to improve their set-piece, which has been a work-on this week.

“As a group, we put it on ourselves and just try to take care of what we can take care of, and get better for it,” Furlong said.

“Set-piece is so big in the modern game. Probably on both counts [scrum and line-out] we probably didn’t get what we wanted out of it. We’ve spent a lot of time on it this week.”

Players to watch

All Blacks outside centre Rieko Ioane put in an excellent performance in the first Test, including two crucial defensive interventions that prevented Ireland from scoring. The speedster has proven that he has matured into a complete player on both sides of the ball. It is only a matter of time before Ioane explodes in the All Blacks attacking structures. Expect the 25-year-old to put in a performance of the highest quality on Saturday.

Veteran Brodie Retallick has additional responsibilities this week, running the line-out in the absence of Sam Whitelock. The line-out is a key area of the game at Test level particularly, and calling the set-piece is certainly not out of the second-row’s skill-set. However, the 31-year-old will need to be perfect on the day.

Ireland sensation Mack Hansen has fully recovered from Covid-19 and starts on the right wing. Since breaking onto the international scene earlier this year in the Six Nations, the speedster has gone from strength to strength, providing an X-factor in the Irish backline as shown by his first try for Ireland off a kick-off in spectacular fashion. There does not seem to be much of a ceiling for the Australian-born wing’s growth. It will be fascinating to see if he can continue his form under the roof in Dunedin.

Flanker Josh van der Flier will always be a player to watch because of his remarkable consistency and ever-present work rate. The 29-year-old made a decent impact in the first Test and expect the tireless loose forward to once again empty the tank this weekend with a high tackle count and strong carries.

Main head-to-head

Scrum-half is one of the key decision-making positions in rugby union, and this week’s head-to-head is sumptuous. Veteran Aaron Smith faces the ever-impressive Irishman Jamison Gibson-Park.

Smith is an absolute master of distribution and is arguably one of the best passers of the ball the game has ever seen. The All Black centurion’s influence extends beyond simply distribution though as his kicking game is exceptional. However, his vision is an aspect that sets him apart, as he proved in the first Test by sniping around the ruck and ultimately setting up a try through a clever chip and chase.

The 33-year-old will long be seen as a model scrum-half in rugby union. Expect Smith to prove that yet again on Saturday.

On the other hand, Gibson-Park benefits from having grown up in New Zealand and representing the Maori All Blacks on 17 occasions before heading north to Leinster and Ireland. The scrum-half will feel the need to prove himself and certainly has the capacity to do so, having grown tremendously into the Test arena, particularly through his partnership with Sexton.

Gibson-Park has become a game-breaker, a player who brilliantly controls the tempo of the game, knowing when to speed the game up to allow the Irish backline to play into space created in the outside channels.

It will be an electric battle from the base of the ruck, and with such small margins in Test rugby, every decision from these two players will count.

Prediction

Ireland will inevitably bounce back from a disappointing loss, and Farrell will take a lot of positives from the first 20 minutes at Eden Park and hope to replicate that for a longer period of the game. The All Blacks will lose a bit of set-piece control in the line-out, but if they continue dominating at scrum time, it will be difficult for Ireland. The second Test will be much closer than the first, but the quality of the New Zealand side will shine through. All Blacks by seven to claim the series.

Previous result

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
2012: New Zealand won 60-0 in Hamilton

The teams

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Will Jordan

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 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 Bundee Aki

Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:05 local (08:05 BST, 07:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Tom Foley (Wales)

READ MORE: July internationals: Five storylines to follow during the second Tests

 

The article New Zealand v Ireland preview: All Blacks to wrap up series despite improved Irish performance appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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