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THIS TIME LAST YEAR THE WORLD WAS ITCH­ING TO SEE THE ALL BLACKS TAKE ON THE FAST-IM­PROV­ING ENG­LAND.

The English had se­cured their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Six Na­tions, were play­ing pow­er­ful rugby and were clearly a dev­as­tat­ing emerg­ing force.

The long-sched­uled All Blacks test against them this Novem­ber has been one of the most hyped tests in re­cent mem­ory.

Ex­cept now it would seem that the All Blacks’ much tougher chal­lenge this year lies the week a er they take on Eng­land when they head to Dublin to play the all-con­quer­ing Ir­ish.

Ire­land are now the ma­jor force in North­ern Hemi­sphere rugby and de­servedly sit at num­ber two in the world rank­ings hav­ing se­cured their third Grand Slam.

The Ir­ish romped through the Six Na­tions a er a tricky start against the French which saw them scrape home well a er the fi­nal whis­tle thanks to a long-range drop-goal.

They dis­patched Italy, Wales and Scot­land a er that and then went to Twick­en­ham on the fi­nal week­end – which was also St. Pa­trick’s Day – and be­came the first team to win there in two years.

And they won eas­ily, beat­ing Eng­land 24-15 and chang­ing en­tirely the pro­file of the All Blacks’ end of sea­son tour.

The All Blacks will play Aus­tralia in Ja­pan on Oc­to­ber 27, then Ja­pan in Tokyo a week later be­fore tak­ing on Eng­land on Novem­ber 10 in Lon­don and Ire­land a week later in Dublin.

All eyes had been on the Eng­land clash – which will still be tough and bru­tal – but it is the bat­tle against the Ir­ish a week later that is loom­ing as the big­gest 80 min­utes of 2018.

“Words can’t de­scribe how happy we are with the re­sult and the Slam,” said Ire­land cap­tain Rory Best.

“We had to build the mo­ments on top of each other be­cause we knew the re­ward would be worth the mas­sive e ort re­quired.

“You have to give mas­sive credit to the 30-odd play­ers we have had in camp. We showed in a cup fi­nal today what we’re made of.”

‘WORDS CAN’T DE­SCRIBE HOW HAPPY WE ARE WITH THE RE­SULT AND THE SLAM.’ Rory Best

GRAND SLAM Ire­land se­cured their third Grand Slam in history and are now de­servedly ranked the num­ber two team in the world.

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