Joe Schmidt makes five changes to the team from the victory over Argentina last week ahead of the highly anticipated clash with New Zealand.

It’s a tried and trusted front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong that will take the field on Saturday night while the inclusion of Devin Toner ahead of Iain Henderson will aim to neutralize the threat of Brodie Retallick at lineouts. Toner is partnered by James Ryan in the second row. Dan Leavy comes in for the injured Sean O’Brien in the only other change to the forwards.

Two changes have been made to the backline. Rob Kearney returns to the starting squad with Jordan Larmour dropping to the bench while Garry Ringrose replaces Robbie Henshaw who was injured in last week’s win over Argentina. Kieran Marmion partners Johnny Sexton at half back while Aki continues at inside centre. Kearney is joined in the back three by Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale.

New Zealand perhaps haven’t been as impressive as their results have let on. Having watched some of their matches in this year’s Rugby Championship which they comfortably won, it seems like they’ve been suffering from a touch of complacency. Not only was their loss against South Africa in Christchurch a terrific game of rugby, but silly mistakes compounded the game. Defensively, New Zealand weren’t as clinical as they usually were while they refused to attempt a drop goal in the very last play in search of a try.

Nevertheless, it was a learning curve for All Blacks and last week, Beauden Barrett stepped up and slotted his first drop kick in more than 70 test matches against England. The ranked number one side in the world were slow out of the blocks last week, allowing England to build a 15-0 lead inside the first 25 minutes. They recovered to win 16-15, but it was not without its controversy as Jerome Garces ruled out a Sam Underhill try in the last minutes of the game.

The impressive thing about New Zealand is that they didn’t panic. I don’t think England are quite the side they were a year ago, but they’re still a good team and will be disappointed to have surrendered a 15-point lead regardless of the opposition.

Ryan Crotty’s try in 2013 still gives me nightmares and the Crusader starts at 12 on Saturday, replacing Sonny Bill Williams. Crotty is a great distributor of the ball and will act as a second playmaker outside Barrett but also has the physicality to replicate Williams. He is one of the All Blacks’ more underrated performers and I was surprised to see Williams’ name listed ahead of his against England.

Damian McKenzie starts at full back and was arguably their best player last week. He’s establishing himself as a regular in this side and has even forced the reliable Ben Smith onto the wing. McKenzie beat 12 defenders against England, just three shy of what England managed throughout the whole match. Like against Argentina, Ireland cant kick loosely to this back three.

Ultimately the biggest and most high profile battle will be at 10. After being virtually untouchable since he burst onto the scene and winning back to back World Player of the Year awards, Beauden Barrett took a bit of a bashing after the loss against South Africa for not taking a drop goal. The Hurricane, who spent some time playing GAA in Co. Meath, has an exceptional running game and is a magician with the ball in hand, however is kicking statistics with a 72% (Rugby Pass).

On the other hand, Ireland have Johnny Sexton who has landed 80% of his kicks in the same time frame (Rugby Pass. I’m not sure there’s a better player to have when leading in a tight game. Sexton’s composure resonates within the rest of the team and he takes Ireland to the next level when he plays and this was typified with his display in the final minutes against France in the Six Nations.

The FRU predicts: Ireland may have got rid of the monkey on their back in 2016 however it will still represent a big ask to topple this Kiwi side. I’m expecting an exciting match, but worry that a lack of Conor Murray will cost Ireland. New Zealand to win by six points.

Ireland New Zealand
Rob Kearney 15 Damian McKenzie
Keith Earls 14 Ben Smith
Garry Ringrose 13 Jack Goodhue
Bundee Aki 12 Ryan Crotty
Jacob Stockdale 11 Rieko Ioane
Johnny Sexton 10 Beauden Barrett
Kieran Marmion 9 Aaron Smith
Cian Healy 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Rory Best 2 Codie Taylor
Tadhg Furlong 3 Owen Franks
Devin Toner 4 Brodie Retallick
James Ryan 5 Samuel Whitelock
Peter O’Mahony 6 Liam Squire
Dan Leavy 7 Ardie Savea
CJ Stander 8 Kieran Read
Sean Cronin 16 Dane Coles
Jack McGrath 17 Ofa Tuungafasi
Andrew Porter 18 Nepo Laulala
Iain Henderson 19 Scott Barrett
Josh vd Flier 20 Matt Todd
Luke McGrath 21 TJ Perenara
Joey Carbery 22 Richie Mo’unga
Jordan Larmour 23 Anton Lienert-Brown

 

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