Saturday 10 December 2016

Johnny Sexton or Beauden Barrett? - Some big names miss out in combined Ireland/All Blacks XV

Published 18/11/2016 | 10:24

We are one day away from one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches in years, with the All Blacks visiting the Aviva Stadium still hurting from their first ever loss to Ireland two weekends ago.

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Joe Schmidt drew up a masterful game plan, superbly executed by the players, that outfoxed Steve Hansen and his record-breaking side who had previously won an unprecedented 18 straight test matches.

Still, the All Blacks remain the world number one by some distance and it is widely expected that the back-to-back world champions will come out on top in Dublin tomorrow - the bookies have them as 16 point favourites.

However, even if Ireland do go down to the visitors, there is no question that Schmidt and his side have narrowed the gap between them and the world's best team, which makes picking a combined XV far trickier than it would have been a month ago.

There are a number of marginal calls and unfortunately, it is hard not to favour the men in black in most of them, although Ireland do come out on top in a few.

The out-half battle is probably the most hotly contested of all - Sexton vs Barrett.

There isn't a ten in the world who could perform Schmidt's tactics with the accuracy of Sexton, but Beauden Barrett - coming off a World Player of the Year award - is just 25, which is six years younger than his opponent.

Still though, it is hard to beat experience and Sexton exhibited the sort of control in Chicago that Barrett, for all his devastating broken field running, still aspires to. Goal-kicking is also an issue for the young New Zealander, something that the All Blacks can hide for the most part as they score so many tries.

This is a selection based on today though, not on the future, and Sexton gets the nod.

Likewise, Conor Murray is in a special run of form at the moment - he outplayed Aaron Smith last time out, with the All Black struggling to find his form after some off-field issues.

As individual players, Smith and Barrett may well be better, but in tandem, nobody works better than Murray and Sexton.

Here is the rest of Independent.ie's combined Ireland/All Blacks team

15. Ben Smith

14. Waisake Naholo

13. Malakai Fekitoa

12. Robbie Henshaw

11. Julian Savea

10. Johnny Sexton

9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath

2. Dane Coles

3. Owen Franks

4. Brodie Retallick

5. Sam Whitelock

6. CJ Stander

7. Sean O'Brien*

8. Kieran Read

*When fully fit, O'Brien gets the nod over Sam Cane - their battle on Saturday will go a long way to telling us if the Ireland flanker can recapture his explosive form of old.

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