End of the Year Tour: Ireland v New Zealand Preview

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New Zealand will be out for revenge when they take on the Irish at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday evening.

The pick of this weekend’s international action sees Ireland host the All Blacks in what is likely to be an extremely heated affair. The two sides locked horns in Chicago a fortnight ago with the Irish producing the shock result of 2016 by seeing off the All Blacks 40-29. A smarting New Zealand side will no doubt want to get a bit of revenge at the Aviva this Saturday.



Ireland v New Zealand | Saturday 19 November | Aviva Stadium | 19:30


To Win (80 Mins)

Ireland 11/2 | Draw 30/1 | New Zealand 1/10
Handicap
Ireland (+15.5) 9/10 | New Zealand (-15.5) 9/10

Ireland 
The Irish crop of 2016 will go down in 'Emerald Isle' folklore after becoming the first Irish side to inflict defeat upon the All Blacks. Excuse the forthcoming pun, but there was absolutely no luck - of the Irish - involved in Joe Schmidt’s team’s victory out in Chicago, with the Irish playing the world’s number one ranked side off the park.

Ireland were fired up from the outset with the spirit of the recently departed Anthony 'Axel' Foley evidently running through the squad. Foley would have been raising his glass to this current Irish crop as they hit their opponents with such ferocity that the departed legend would have felt the tremors. Ireland’s up and at 'em style of play caught Steve Hansen’s men off guard and their abrasive tactics reaped dividends as they built up a substantial 17 point half-time lead.

During the half-time break every pundit worth his salt was pointing out how the All Blacks had turned it on in the second half of all of their 2016 fixtures. I personally thought that the All Blacks would bounce back and, as such, I climbed on the All Blacks win with gay abandon. How wrong we all were. The Irish came out for the second stanza with an identical game plan and continued to get in their opponents' faces. Their devil may care approach ensured the All Blacks remained on the back foot and failed to overturn the deficit.

Joe Schmidt is like to instruct his side to approach the game in the exact same manner they did a fortnight ago; run hard, tackle hard, and make sure you don’t give the ball away cheaply. But Steve Hansen, now knowing Ireland’s game plan, is likely to find some way to counteract it: I suspect he’ll instruct World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett to chip and grubber the ball in behind the Irish defensive line.

It will be interesting to see how Joe Schmidt alters his side for this one. He gave a few fringe players a run against Canada last week, so the big guns will be well rested. While incumbent ten Jonny Sexton will feature at ten, Schmidt has a bit of a selection headache in terms of who he gives the understudy fly-half role to.

Paddy Jackson was in sparkling form during Ireland’s June series in South Africa, but off the field issues saw him withdrawn from the squad to take on New Zealand in Chicago. Schmidt's other option is New Zealand born Joey Carbrey. The youngster showed a bucket load of potential coming off the bench in Chicago and may just claim the backup role for the weekend.



New Zealand
There is nothing that fires a rugby side up like a sub-par performance. And New Zealand were well below their best when they took on Ireland last. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a New Zealand side panic with ball in hand like they did in Chicago. It was just so out of character for a side who are the epitome of composure.

I highly doubt we’ll see the All Blacks lose their heads again this week - even if Ireland come out of the starting blocks as quickly as they did in Chicago. I also think Hansen will have noticed how much space the Irish left in behind when rushing up on defence. I expect Barrett and Crotty Lienart-Brown to exploit this with a few well-timed chips and grubbers in behind their opponents’ defensive line.

Much like his opposite number, Steve Hansen has a tough choice to make in the half-back department. While Aaron Smith is a hell of a player, his recent scandal seems to have gone to his head somewhat. The All Black nine looked a shadow of the player that took the first half of this year’s Rugby Championship by storm. And with TJ Perrenara playing some great rugby, Hansen may opt to switch things up a bit by elevating Perrenara to the starting XV and playing Smith off the bench.

Verdict: New Zealand (-15.5) 9/10
The All Blacks will have their incumbent locking combination reinstated for this one and I reckon that will give the ideal platform to operate off. My money is on the All Blacks reminding the rugby world why they are the best in the business by putting a large score over the Irish.

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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