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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.