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?

NZ Rugby World - - The Breakdown -

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.

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