A team to beat the Irish?

If we lose this one, we’re going home. All Black captain, Keiran Read

A very good All Black side

By Roger Childs

If the Irish win on Saturday night they deserve to go on and lift the World Cup for the first time. Would it be heresy to say this outcome would be good for the game? After all we have won the last two.

Obviously I’m keen to see the All Backs progress to the semi finals. The team selected to play Ireland at the Tokyo Stadium, where there will be a sell-out crowd, is one of the best to take to the field in recent years. There is a judicious mix of exciting, speedy young players and experienced old hands who know the ropes and are solid on defence. Add to this an excellent bench with quality backs and forwards ready to come on and make a real impact in the second half.

Tough recent battles

After over a century of never beating New Zealand, the Irish have won two of the last four contests. It might have been three, but for one of the greatest tries of all time, allowing the All Blacks to snatch a 24-22 victory in extra time, back in 2013.

Celebrating the first Irish victory over the All Blacks in Dublin November 2018

The Irish have a very good side and a wily coach in Kiwi Joe Schmidt. Steve Hansen was outfoxed by Schmidt in Chicago in November 2016 and two years later in Dublin. Losing three times to the Irish coach is unthinkable for Hansen who will retire after the World Cup – just as well it’s October this time!

This time there is an air of vulnerability about the Irish as they unexpectedly lost to the Japanese in Pool play. No doubt the All Blacks will have carefully studied the tape of that match.

How the sides stack up

The Irish fifteen is a very good one. At hooker Rory Best leads a powerful pack and in C J Stander they have possibly the best number 8 in the world. Connor Murray is a classy half back and fly half Johnny Sexton has a huge amount of big match experience and is an excellent goal kicker. Further out they have speedy three quarters.

The All Blacks however, have a team to match the Irish strengths. The pack will not overpower their opponents, but should hold their own in the set pieces. The mobility and handling skills of the New Zealand forwards are the envy of the world and loose forwards Ardie Savea and Keiran Read are in great form.

In the backs the All Blacks have exciting players who the Irish haven’t played against before, notably the Canterbury trio of Richie Mo’unga, Sevu Reece and George Bridge. They have excellent handing skills and are very quick. Mo’unga is also a reliable goal kicker. Back at fullback Beauden Barrett is unmatched in the world, and has the ability to turn a game with his injection of pace into the backline.

Ardie Savea – one of the players of the year

Great expectations

The All Blacks probably expected to be playing Scotland rather than Ireland, however to win the World Cup you must beat the top teams. The coaches would have been disappointed when the final Pool match against Italy was cancelled as a number of players needed more game time, especially star lock Brodie Retallick.

Nevertheless, the New Zealanders will not be overawed or complacent. Having lost two of four previous matches against the Irish, they need to be less predictable than they were in those games. They will want to keep the game moving quickly with the aim of working to their strengths – speed to the loose ball, fast three quarters, rapid backing up of the ball carrier, strategic kicking and a powerful bench.

The secret of success in rugby is to keep the opposition guessing. Hopefully the All Blacks can do that on Saturday and move on to the semi-finals.

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