Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland v New Zealand: We look at the key battles

Ireland will be hoping to secure their first-ever win over New Zealand when the two teams meet at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Sunday. Here, we look at those battles which could decide the match.


Ireland number eight Heaslip needs an immediate turn in personal fortunes to contain dominant world force Read. The Kiwi loose forward has dispatched every challenger in the All Blacks' peerless calendar year. Heaslip was subdued in the extreme in last weekend's 32-15 Australia defeat, with head coach Joe Schmidt admitting the Leinster 29-year-old could not get into the game. Any repeat and Read will run riot.


Openside flanker O'Brien goes against the Southern Hemisphere grain of groundhog number sevens. Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree still thinks O'Brien's bullish ball-carrying continuity game can catapult him into world-class status. But after Michael Hooper controlled the breakdown for Australia last week, O'Brien now faces an even more daunting task against the supreme power that is McCaw. Unrivalled at the tackle area, McCaw has that Martin Johnson-style mystique when it comes to influencing referees. Ireland squad consensus indicates O'Brien is now experienced enough to combat the world's best and not just learn from them: time to prove it.


Kieran Read
Kieran Read
Sean O'Brien
Richie McCaw
Gordon D’Arcy
Ma'a Nonu

Two of world rugby's master endurance men: both one half of a one-time world-record cap-hoarding centre partnership. This autumn schedule suggests the All Blacks mainstay is coping with the inevitable passing of time somewhat better, however. D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll have struggled to recreate former glories, while Nonu is still tearing defences apart with his terrifying blend of smash-and-grab and subtle skill. Ireland have craved a vintage D'Arcy-O'Driscoll performance all autumn: now or never.



* Despite 27 meetings, Ireland have never beaten New Zealand. The All Blacks boast 26 victories, with a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road in 1973 Ireland's only respite in the series.

* Centre Brian O'Driscoll will equal Ronan O'Gara's all-time Ireland caps tally of 128 in his 14th clash with New Zealand.

* Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll will wrestle back the world record for the most international appearances of a centre partnership from All Blacks Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith. D'Arcy and O'Driscoll will notch 52 joint caps, with Smith currently in the middle of a four-month sabbatical.

* The All Blacks are gunning to become the first international team to complete a perfect season in the professional era after 13 consecutive victories in 2013.

* Veteran hooker Andrew Hore is expected to make his 83rd All Blacks cap his last, with the 35-year-old tipped to retire after the season-closing clash.

* Highly-rated Hurricanes scrum-half TJ Perenara is primed for his All Blacks debut, taking a seat on the bench.

* New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has made seven changes from the side that saw off England 30-22 at Twickenham last weekend.

* Brothers Rob and Dave Kearney will start their first international match together, with wing Dave making his full Ireland debut.

* Luke Fitzgerald is in line for his first Ireland action since March when he was a replacement in the 22-15 defeat in Italy during the RBS 6 Nations.

* New Zealand-born scrum-half Isaac Boss takes a seat on Ireland's bench, making the squad for the first time since the 40-14 victory in Canada in June.

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