Ireland V New Zealand: Key Battles to Watch
New Zealand will run out at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday looking to do what no side in the professional era has done. A 100 percent record in a calendar year is within their grasp.
Standing in their way, a side who have never beaten the All Blacks and, at present, are entering a period of transition.
For talisman Brian O’Driscoll, if passed fit, this will be his last crack at New Zealand. Memories of the injustice of his exit from the 2005 Lions tour in New Zealand remain raw for many supporters who would love to see the old warrior go out with a bang.
Let’s take a look at the key battles.
Jamie Heaslip V Kieran Read
Heaslip’s star has waned a little since he burst on to the international scene. The buccaneering running that was a regular trademark of his early Ireland career is seen less regularly these days.
Read on the other hand, seems to get better each time he steps on to the field. He was outstanding against England, creating one try and scoring another, having bagged one in New Zealand’s first tour match in Paris as well.
You wouldn't bet against him finishing as the autumn’s top try scorer in Dublin, but Heaslip is not the type to allow an opponent to willfully outshine him on his own patch.
The Leinsterman owes himself and his team mates a big performance, and with a player of Read’s class going up against him, he will need it.
The Set Piece
England proved last week that a strong scrum and well-oiled lineout can put the All Blacks under pressure.
The problem for Ireland is that their lineout was malfunctioning last week against Australia and their scrum was less than dominant.
Their coaches have used this week to insist these areas must be put right. If they can secure these sources of possession, the next step is to use that platform to create and finish opportunities.
Here was another area Ireland struggled in last week, while the All Blacks once again proved adept and took their opportunities when they arose.
The Kick Chase
New Zealand demonstrated against England how intelligent their chasing game is. They were happy for England’s biggest, hardest runner to receive possession because they would stop him early and await the box kick.
From there they went wide early and exploited England’s narrow defensive setup.
Ireland will have seen the tape and should look to kick deeper to exit their 22, returning the pressure with a good chase and forcing New Zealand to start from a deeper position.
Their defence was cut to ribbons by Australia last week and Joe Schmidt will know they need to be tighter and faster to thwart the All Blacks.
It will all stem from a good chase and proper organisation when Israel Dagg and Co. are running back at them.
Ireland have shown in recent years they have become adept at the "choke" tackle, wrapping a man up, keeping him on his feet and turning possession over.
With the speed at which New Zealand clear rucks, they will need to deploy this tactic to slow the All Blacks attack down.
When it’s their turn to get the ball away from the tackle, they will need their back row to be at it’s best. Sean O’Brien has impressed so far this season and he will need to be on his game to get the better of Richie McCaw.
When Ireland go wide, they must get the support there early or risk being turned over, as we saw happen to England last week.