Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand. They will never get a better opportunity to end that record than today.
The All Blacks camp has been struck by Covid leaving coaches, including top dog Ian Foster, and players out of action. Rarely does one look at a New Zealand team sheet and find it underwhelming. The team they picked to take on Ireland might be just that.
David Havili and Jack Goodhue could well have been New Zealand’s starting centre pairing had Covid not struck. Will Jordan, another likely starter in the backline, has also been ruled out for the same reason.
There is quality throughout the side, but it is not the borderline World XV the All Blacks once boasted.
Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has been drafted in to help New Zealand prepare for his former side. Schmidt has been working with the Blues and will become an All Blacks selector after this series. He undoubtedly will have given unique insight to the New Zealand camp but it seems unlikely that will make up for a week of disruption.
The Ireland camp were not immune to Covid, however, with Connacht wing Mack Hansen ruled out of the series opener. Iain Henderson is also unavailable with an injury that has ruled him out of the tour. But Ireland should still be confident.
They defeated the All Blacks in the autumn and this is not a vintage New Zealand side. They lost three games out of 15 in 2021 which, by their high standards, was a near-disaster.
Ireland captain and fly-half Johnny Sexton has called on his side to maintain their upward trajectory following an unconvincing start to Andy Farrell’s reign as head coach.
“We were written off left, right and centre and we’ve come back and we’ve showed some great stuff,” he told Sky Sports ahead of Saturday’s first Test in Auckland.
“We’ve had some great results to go with it because we were always saying, ‘it’s coming, it’s coming’ and I think people were looking at us going, ‘is it really?’.
“And now we’ve got to keep it going. “We’ve got to keep improving because that’s the mistake we made in the last cycle for the World Cup; we probably peaked in 2018 and we didn’t continue to evolve and that’s what we’re keen to not let happen.”