The top two in rugby’s world rankings will do battle this week in Dublin in what is the most eagerly anticipated match of the Autumn International series. With the World Cup looming in 2019, it will be fascinating to see how these two sides face up to each other.
Ireland has only beaten New Zealand once in their history in 2016. However, under Joe Schmidt, they have installed a winning mentality and expectations are rightfully high ahead of Saturday’s clash.
The Irish hosted Argentina in what was expected to be a routine victory. However, an early injury to Sean O’Brien set the tone for the first half as Ireland struggled to get going. The visitors looked dangerous and would have taken the halftime lead if it weren’t for a late Sexton penalty.
Ireland came out second half a more composed outfit starting to go through the phases and put the pumas under pressure. Ultimately, they were too strong and pulled away in the latter stages of the match – they will need an 80-minute performance if they are to overcome the All Blacks.
New Zealand took on England at Twickenham in very tough conditions. In the early stages of the match, the English coped with the conditions much better than the All Blacks. They raced to an early lead with 15 unanswered points and appeared to be in control.
In typical New Zealand style, a style rugby fans have become accustomed to, they didn’t panic and managed to sneak a late try in the first half to pull them back into the contest. From then on it was more when New Zealand would score rather than if as they put huge pressure on the English defence.
There was late controversy when England’s Sam Underhill appeared to have won the game for the hosts. The TMO was called upon and it was eventually disallowed for an offside at the ruck. Pundits remain split on whether the try should have been allowed but one thing is for sure, the All Blacks dodged a bullet and will want to cut out silly errors against Ireland.
How these two generals marshal their troops will be pivotal on Saturday night. They have both been nominated for player of the year and it will be intriguing to see who performs better.
Sexton’s usual half-back partner Conor Murray is ruled out through injury so Kieran Marmion has the responsibility in the 9 jersey to get the most out of Sexton’s game.
Sexton must control the game; winning the territorial battle, putting his strike runners into space, and landing his kicks at goal. These are all essential for Ireland to win on Saturday.
The conditions are set to be dry this week and that will suit Beauden Barrett. Although we didn’t see the best of him last week, he has better conditions to launch attacks this week. Ireland must be wary of his blistering pace and ability to put teammates in space.
Our “home nation’s acca” won last week at 9/1 and I am hoping to provide another winner for you this week.
Statistically, Ireland under Schmidt are very fast starters. They play a prescriptive style of rugby where each player knows their role. They don’t make many mistakes and with home advantage on Saturday I expect them to pile the pressure on New Zealand.
In addition, New Zealand hasn’t been starting games well of late. Along with last week, where they shipped 15 early points before replying, they have had to rely on dramatic late comebacks in this year’s Rugby Championship too.
The Irish won’t need reminding of how New Zealand can snatch late wins from the jaws of defeat. In 2013, New Zealand famously denied Ireland their first ever win over them when they scored a last play try to win.
I think this selection has a great chance as after the early Ireland onslaught, New Zealand will settle into a rhythm in the second half and when they do they are nearly impossible to live with.
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