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End of The Year Tours: Ireland v New Zealand Preview
The All Blacks will look to extend their unbeaten record when they take on the Irish at Soldier Park on Saturday evening.
Steve Hansen’s men kick off their end of the year tour against the Irish in America. While the venue may be foreign to both teams, we can still expect a rather partisan crowd at Soldier Park in Chicago.
So can the Kiwis continue their brilliant run of results or will Ireland end their winning streak?
Ireland v New Zealand | Saturday 5 November | Soldier Field | 22:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Ireland 8/1 | Draw 55/1 | New Zealand 1/33
Ireland | New Zealand
The men from the ‘Emerald Isle’ have enjoyed a decent if not spectacular 2016, finishing third in the Six Nations and then winning one of their three June Tests against South Africa.
On the face of it, these don’t really look like the best results ever but when you factor in that Ireland have lost talismanic skipper Paul O’ Connell to retirement and that first choice pivot Jonny Sexton has been injured for the majority of the year, these results look much more respectable.
Sexton is fully fit now, though, and is due to start at flyhalf on Saturday. His return to the field couldn’t have come at a better time for the Irish as impressive young pivot, Paddy Jack, who filled in Sexton on Ireland’s tour of South Africa, has pulled out of the squad for personal reasons.
Jackson isn’t the only Irishman to miss out as influential forwards Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony are yet to fully recover from their respective injuries. While veteran back Keith Earls misses out due to suspension.
The All Blacks haven’t been as hard hit as the Irish in terms of absentees but they are facing a bit of a locking crisis with Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick all ruled out. This means we’re likely to see talented Crusaders' youngster Scott Barrett – the Barrett family will now have another All Black – join Patrick Tuipulotu in the second row, with Wellington Hurricanes standout Vaea Fifita providing cover from the bench.
Apart from the second row, Steve Hansen isn’t facing too many selection headaches with the majority of his Rugby Championship winning squad fit and raring to go. He is likely to field a very similar side to the one that hammered the Springboks in Durban last month. The only change Hansen may be tempted to make is to bring Aaron Smith back into the starting XV in place of TJ Perenara.
The Stats That Matter
It has been four years since the All Blacks have been beaten by European opposition.
The Irish have never beaten New Zealand with their best result being a draw which occurred way back in 1973.
There have been a few tight games in recent history with New Zealand winning the last match between the two sides by only two points. There was also a narrow victory for New Zealand in 2012 where they edged Ireland 22-19 at Christchurch. There was a massive blowout result in between those two fixtures, however, as New Zealand ran out 60-0 victors in 2012 out in Hamilton.
Verdict: New Zealand (-23.5) 9/10
I expect this game to follow an identical script to most of New Zealand’s 2016 fixtures: the All Blacks will wear their opponents down in the first half and then the damn wall will break in the second half, allowing them to run in a plethora of late tries which sees them clear the handicap.