Both sides arrive at the Aviva Stadium this week in world leading form. Ireland are ranked second in the world, while the All Blacks have been the game’s leading team in terms of ranking points, and probably perception, for nearly a decade.
For those prone to getting ahead of themselves, this match can be viewed as a dress rehearsal for next year’s Rugby World Cup where the two sides are likely to meet in the Quarter or Semi-Finals.
Ireland followed a Grand Slam, undefeated run in the six nations with a 2-1 series victory in Australia in the Summer. Of the 11 games played by the Irish this season a solitary defeat to the Aussies stands alone.
Last time out Joe Schmidt’s men looked laboured in beating Argentina. Despite several errors, they still managed to get an 11 point win over the Pumas.
On the surface, New Zealand’s form is typically ominous. They won the Rugby Championship in cruise-mode, 10 points clear of second placed South Africa, with a points difference of +93.
The All Blacks’ average winning margin in each test match this year has been a remarkable 20 points. For context, Ireland’s average winning margin is 12, and they’re the next closest in world rugby on that statistic.
Despite this stark difference, New Zealand have displayed vulnerability lately. Steve Hanson’s side lost to South Africa for the first time in nearly ten years, at home to boot. Last time out they were pushed all the way by an England side that has a losing record this season.
ACTION & REACTION
Relive the drama as England fell just short against New Zealand
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 11, 2018
Fixtures of late between Ireland and New Zealand have been compelling encounters.
Since Joe Schmidt has taken charge of the Irish they’ve faced the World Champions three times. While they trail in the recent head to heads 2-1, they have consistently troubled the All Blacks more than any other side.
Ireland were dispatched in heartbreaking fashion at the Aviva Stadium in 2013 with a last minute, length of field surge finished off by Ryan Crotty. Revenge was served, and a first ever win against the AB’s, in Chicago in 2016.
Hansen’s side then physically brutalised Ireland a week later in Dublin to take an 11 point win.
Each game has been characterised by savage competition at the breakdown and in the tackle. Whichever team can overcome suffocating defensive pressure the best will likely walk away with a win this weekend.
The problem for Ireland is that they’ll have to deliver a definitive performance and New Zealand will have to be a degree off their best.
Since the arrival of the professional era, Ireland have a 95 per cent losing record against the All Blacks with an average 20 point deficit on the final whistle. While the Joe Schmidt factor must be respected, and recent form, some history provides insurmountable evidence.
Ireland have some key absentees. Conor Murray, arguably the world’s best scrum-half, will miss out as he continues his recovery from a long-term neck injury. Further blows have been dealt in the last week with Sean O’Brien breaking his arm against Argentina & Robbie Henshaw dropping out of that game just before kick-off with a hamstring complaint.
New Zealand have something more approaching a full deck to choose from. Sonny Bill Williams is the only absentee of the 15 that lined up against England at Twickenham last Saturday. Williams shipped a heavy blow to the shoulder and will miss out.
🎥 Ahead of the blockbuster clash against @IrishRugby in Dublin, Steve Hansen talks about the impact of veterans Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith and what his side can expect from Ireland.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 15, 2018
Despite Ireland’s excellent recent results, and an obvious improvement against the AB’s since Joe Schmidt’s arrival, there’s a lack of evidence to suggest they’ll win this weekend.
New Zealand have beaten Ireland by 6.5 points or more in 15 of their 18 encounters in the professional era, including their last visit to the Aviva Stadium two years ago.
On that basis, married with the quality of their play and the level of their determination to punish the Irish for that solitary win in Soldier Field, New Zealand to beat a converted try handicap is the bet for me.
New Zealand to win with a -6.5 handicap