Doug Howlett: Ireland shouldn't view a meeting with the All Blacks as the end of the road
New Zealand's record tryscorer Doug Howlett believes Joe Schmidt's Ireland have what it takes to push New Zealand all the way should the sides cross paths next month at the Rugby World Cup.
The Kiwi, a Heineken Cup winner with Munster in 2008, believes Ireland should not fear playing the world's number one side, especially given the nature of their last encounter.
That agonising 24-22 defeat in 2013 was hard for the Irish team to take but two Six Nations titles since then have earmarked Schmidt's troops as dark horses for the World Cup.
Should Ireland finish runners-up in their Pool, they will most likely face the All Blacks in the last eight, victory over France would ensure that the sides would stay apart until a potential final.
"It's a wonderful panel that they're taking over and I wouldn't see the end of the road as a quarter-final with the All Blacks either," he said.
"They showed a couple of years ago that they are right there with the All Blacks.
"I see them going deep into this tournament."
"They'll build in the tournament, there are some games which allow them to do that but everyone's going to be pushing for places at the same time.
"Joe Schmidt has done a wonderful job in terms of creating competition for places and I think that only strengthens the squad. Ireland versus France in the last pool game will be a game to look out for."
New Zealand's two Rugby World Cup triumphs (1987 and 2011) came on home soil but icons Dan Carter and Richie McCaw will be hoping to make history next month as they say goodbye to international rugby.
"It certainly would (be nice). Easier said than done. Knowing these individuals they'll want to finish on a high and not only Dan and Richie but Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Kevin Mealamu, Tony Woodcock... there is a lot of desire to end their All Black career on a high."
The beginning of the world cup has been marred by injuries to top players while others have failed to make the cut when it came to being selected in the all-important 31-man squads.
"In any World cup, you want to see the best players playing. I feel for Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb, to leading stars in their positions in the world not able to display their skillset. I feel for them," he added
"It's a part of what we do and there are going to be more injuries as we progress.
"I just hope that towards the latter stages that the best players are still on the field and we unearth some new, young stars."
Doug Howlett was speaking to help launch AIG’s Haka 360 ˚ Experience, an app which uses 360 degree video technology to give the viewer the feeling of being on the field with the All Blacks and in the midst of the powerful Māori ritual.