FIVE OF THE BEST
NOW THAT THE WORLD ORDER HAS CHANGED, GIVEN THE RISE AND RISE OF IRELAND, WHICH ARE THE FIVE TOUGHEST TESTS THE ALL BLACKS WILL PLAY THIS YEAR?
1 IRELAND – NOVEMBER 17 IN DUBLIN
This was always going to be a tough game, but now it takes on new status as the hardest of the year.
Ireland have jumped to number two in the world, are full of confidence and haven’t lost in 12 tests.
They play smart rugby, have a brilliant coach, strength in depth and a rampant home crowd behind them.
2 AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 18 IN SYDNEY
The All Blacks have won their last two Bledisloe Cup tests in Sydney with remarkable ease. But that is a false picture.
The Wallabies are well coached, full of good players and usually, the last two years aside, perform well in Sydney.
It hasn’t been a great ground for the All Blacks as they lost there in 2015 and drew in 2014.
They also lost to the Wallabies the last time they played them.
3 ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 10 IN LONDON
England have lost their last three tests and have to go to South Africa before the All Blacks get to London in November.
Despite this, England will be di cult to beat at home. Really di cult. They are big, strong, demanding, and by November, they should have fixed most of their problems.
Also, Twickenham is one of the most intimidating grounds in the world. The atmosphere will be caustic.
4 SOUTH AFRICA – OCTOBER 6 IN PRETORIA
The Boks have su ered record defeats to the All Blacks in the last two years and have also lost to Italy and nearly everyone else as well.
But when the All Blacks played in the Republic last year they were lucky to escape with victory.
It’s rare indeed to go to the Republic and not be tested to the limits and that’s what will happen in Pretoria. The All Blacks will face a Springbok side now under the guidance of Rassie Erasmus and it will be a brutal encounter they will need to be at 100 per cent to win.
5 FRANCE – JUNE 9 IN AUCKLAND
The All Blacks never start well in any given year. It’s just the way it is. They were lucky to beat England first up in 2014 and France in 2013, and we imagine that will be the same story in 2018.
France will arrive late, have plenty of injuries and be all but written o but that makes them dangerous.