RWC 2019: New Zealand vs Ireland Preview
New Zealand vs Ireland
Ireland’s shock 13-19 loss to Japan saw them finish as runners-up in Pool A, therefore needing to knock over the back-to-back reigning world champions in order to reach a first-ever semi-final.
While you are unlikely to get so much as a twitch of complaint from Rory Best’s men, the reality is that they now have to negotiate a much tougher run-in to the final, with England set to lie in wait at the semi-final stage.
Still though, to be considered the best you have to beat the best and this weekend’s clash with the All Blacks – a side the Irish have defeated in two of the last three outings between the sides – is the perfect place to start.
With many claiming Joe Schmidt’s men to be a spent force, the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slammers will be frothing at the chance to prove themselves once more.
Rain is likely, and so the tactical minds of Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray will be crucial for the men in green. The latter in particular has enjoyed a standout campaign and will look to up the ante come Saturday.
Meanwhile, having topped Pool B following their win over the Springboks, New Zealand will feel they still have it in their locker to knock out a side they have beaten 15 times in 17 meetings.
With Steve Hansen set to start Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett in their dual-pivot roles, Rob Kearney and co. need to keep mistakes at the back to a minimum. The former duo’s tactical kicking will likely be front and centre of their gameplan on the weekend. Ireland can ill-afford any unforced errors.
Possession will be another key factor if Ireland are to cause an upset with so much of their philosophy based around keeping ball in hand. If New Zealand’s kicking keeps them pinned in their own half, they will struggle to assert themselves.
Prediction – New Zealand vs Ireland
New Zealand by 10-points or more
What a difference a few months makes. In November I would have backed the Irish to take this one, but they have struggled to live up to the hype in 2019. Having played without any real rhythm throughout the pool stages, coupled with this New Zealand side’s World Cup experience, an upset seems unlikely.
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