The All Blacks have achieved the World Record of 18-straight Test victories, but a new and exciting prospect faces the World Champions over the next month of rugby.
Their biggest challenge of the Northern Tour is certainly Ireland, one of the most passionate rugby nations. For Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt; a kiwi himself, this is the beginning of a huge international season–as the All Blacks close theirs.
The All Blacks have been untouchable in 2016, and they’ve blooded yet more exciting young talent along the way. This tour presents a great opportunity for impressive midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown., If he performs well, he could seal his jersey for next year. And will the All Blacks selectors finally give Damian McKenzie a run at No.10 in November? He has been selected for the Maori All Blacks to face the United States on Friday, so surely that opportunity must present itself sometime over the next four weeks.
And what of the potential debut for Scott Barrett? Imagine making your first All Black appearance on the iconic Solider Field, in Chicago.
Can Ireland Finally Break The Drought?
You could argue that Ireland have a lot more on the line for Saturday’s big All Blacks encounter in Chicago. 2016 has been a failure so far. They were unable to defend their Six Nations crown, finishing third on the table behind Wales and England. But as always, the clash against the All Blacks represents something of real significance for Schmidt and his men.
Ireland, put simply, will be desperate to notch their first ever victory over the New Zealand team. There is a lot of intrigue for rugby in Ireland over the next 12-months, with the British & Irish Lions traveling to ‘the land of the long white cloud’ in 2017. For now, however, Joe Schmidt will want revenge for what happened the last time these teams played.
In 2013 the All Blacks won on the very last play of the game, when Aaron Cruden slotted the match winner. In all reality, Ireland were deserving winners that day–some even say they were robbed–but the result stood, as much as it might still hurt for the Irish fans to this day. In fact, Ireland had a 19-0 lead at one point in that game. They ultimately lost, 24-22.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 31, 2016
Irish players have spoken this week about their opposition, saying that the All Blacks are ‘not invincible’ and can be beaten. Lock Ultan Dillane said that the All Blacks have weaknesses and it is up to the Irish to exploit them on Saturday afternoon.
Jonathan Sexton is the veteran back line general for Ireland. His performance must be high-class, because his likely flyhalf doesn’t pack any international experience. Schmidt will select kiwi-born youngster Joey Carbery to substitute in at No.10, mainly due to the sudden withdrawal of Paddy Jackson who has left the squad for personal reasons. Carbery (21) has just nine games for Leinster under his belt, but he did well enough in secondary school to impress a former coach by the name of Sir Graham Henry, prior to his professional rugby career.
But it is Sexton who Schmidt will count on to ‘do the business’ in Chicago, and the man himself says that he learnt a lot from the heartbreak defeat in 2013.
“We probably weren’t fit enough. The subs have to have more of an impact when they come on and they have to add some positivity to the team.”
Ireland will have two chances to beat the All Blacks in the next month. After the game in Chicago, Ireland will host the World Champions again in Dublin, on November 20. The team have focused a lot of emphasis on their conditioning in the build up, desperate to match the fitness of the All Blacks over 80 minutes. The NZ side always seem to go to another level in the last quarter of the game.
Paul O’Connell, former Ireland captain, thinks that two tests against the All Blacks in such a short turnaround will be beneficial for the Irish. No doubt Schmidt will have a plan, but if his players fail to execute and get sucked into the physical battle at the breakdown, chances are Ireland’s losing streak will continue–played 28 times, 27 losses and one draw, since 1905.
All Blacks Favorites To Keep Winning Streak Alive
It has been 111 long years in the making, but as ever, the All Blacks are still hot favorites to beat Ireland once again. The squad that Hansen selects will be an interesting one. Make no mistake about it, a too comfortable All Blacks side is a beatable one.
Throughout history, the All Blacks have always lost at times when no one predicted – and Saturday afternoon could very well be more of the same, if they do not take it seriously. For Ireland, this is no ‘exhibition match’.
Solider Field is expected to be at near-capacity for the second major international rugby match held at this famous ground.
IRELAND v NEW ZEALAND
November 5. Kick-off 3.00pm (local time)