Friday 23 February 2018

'Israel Dagg brought in to counter kicking game' - Five talking points ahead of Ireland v New Zealand

Israel Dagg of New Zealand reacts after falling over a tackle bag during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Israel Dagg of New Zealand reacts after falling over a tackle bag during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Ireland waited 111 years for a victory against the All Blacks and now have the chance to grab a second in as many weeks this weekend.

Here, we examine five key talking points for the keenly-anticipated rematch that follows Ireland's shock 40-29 victory over New Zealand in Chicago on November 5.

1. Ireland refuse to fall for Steve Hansen branding New Zealand the underdogs:

New Zealand boss Hansen has branded his back-to-back world champions "underdogs" for the Dublin clash. Hansen's claim has been met with near incredulity in all corners, especially as the All Blacks boast a 92 per cent win rate during his tenure. They have lost just four in 66 under Hansen's guide, and those statistics belie his claim that Ireland enter Saturday's clash as favourites. Just because Ireland claimed their first-ever win over New Zealand in Chicago on November 5, the hosts have insisted that does not change the complexion of facing the world's best team one iota. Ireland have rejected any suggestion of mind games from New Zealand and Hansen, but he has no doubt issued that tag in order to challenge his side to hit back to expected form.

2. New Zealand's all-new second row:

The return of fit-again locking duo Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock is expected to transform New Zealand's approach. Firstly the potent second rows will boost the All Blacks' scrum and lineout no end. But more than that, Retallick especially should revamp New Zealand's approach with ball in hand. The peerless Retallick acts as a hugely-dangerous auxiliary midfield playmaker in New Zealand's unique attacking system. Few teams have managed to shut down the wily operator, so Ireland have to do just that in order to produce another victory.

3. Wing Israel Dagg ushered in to counter Ireland's aerial game:

Battering ram wing Waisake Naholo has been relegated to New Zealand's bench for failing to cope with Ireland's tactical kicking strategy in Chicago. Naholo floundered as Ireland's aerial bombardment paid huge dividend at Soldier Field. Picked to power through the middle of the field with ball in hand, instead Naholo wound up too often clutching at straws as Ireland gained front-foot ball through Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray's inch-perfect kicking game. Hansen has picked Dagg on the wing in the hope New Zealand can this time shut down one of Ireland's primary sources of attacking platforms.

4. Sean O'Brien can terrorise New Zealand again:

When Ireland ran New Zealand all the way in their 24-22 defeat in Dublin 2013, for the first hour back-rower Sean O'Brien struck fear into the stunned All Blacks. New Zealand's overtime converted try to steal the game has since been well-documented, with the All Blacks exploiting that last-gasp victory in order to boost their unbeatable aura. Ireland's win in Chicago has dented that invincibility of course though, and fit-again flanker O'Brien can once again ruin New Zealand's claim to immortality. The Leinster star is just about approaching full tilt, and can easily repeat his barnstorming 2013 showing.

5. Spare a thought for Peter O'Mahony:

Munster flanker Peter O'Mahony has proved one of Ireland's most potent and dependable performers over the last five years. So it must have been with a heavy heart that Ireland boss Joe Schmidt once again omitted the bullish back-rower from his line-up to face New Zealand. O'Mahony would have been frustrated but accepting of missing the Chicago match, still fighting back to full fitness as he was after his long-term battles with knee trouble. But this week he has been in full flight, so to miss a second match against the world's best side in as many weeks must cut deep.

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