NZ Rugby World


- jim@nzrugbywor­


Three tests against the All Blacks was going to be good, but adding in two midweek games against the Māori All Blacks makes this tour especially appetising.

And then there’s the fact Ireland have beaten the

All Blacks three times in the last five tests - and were unlucky not to win in 2013 when the All Blacks scored to level the scores in the final minute.

Aaron Cruden needed two attempts to kick the conversion that gave the All Blacks the 24-22 win.

Heck, they should’ve won the previous year on a freezing night in Christchur­ch when a wobbly last minute Dan Carter drop goal secured a win in the Thriller in the Chiller.

The brightest light in the tests since that 2013 match in Dublin was the 46-14 win at the World Cup - a tournament many had thought Ireland were favourites to win.

It could be argued the All Blacks haven’t played as well since that match in Yokohama while Ireland have improved under Andy Farrell, who took over from Kiwi Joe Schmidt after the World Cup.

Last year’s 29-20 loss in Dublin raised concerns that were only heightened by the 40-25 loss to France in

Paris a week later.

The World Cup is now firmly on the horizon and both those sides feature strongly in the All Blacks fortunes in France.

They play the hosts in their opening match and depending on results, are likely to play Ireland or

South Africa in the quarterfin­al.

Many All Blacks fans, looking back over the last few years and the defeats to Argentina, France and Ireland, fear the All Blacks could, as they did in 2007, be heading home after the quarterfin­als.

Which is why the July tests are so intriguing.

Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand but there is a real chance that will change in July. They could go one better and win the series.

That would be a calamity for head coach Ian Foster and the calls for him to be sacked would be deafening just as it was when John Hart hit turbulence in 1998.

The All Blacks lost five tests on the bounce that year, three to Australia and two against South Africa, but

Hart survived to take them to the World Cup in 1999.

Foster may not survive losing a series to Ireland at home.

The flip side, of course, is that the All Blacks win the series in a white wash and all is good in the All Black world. Even a 2-1 series victory will be toasted.

The odds are in the All Blacks favour. Northern teams tend to struggle in New Zealand in our winter with a long season taking its toll and club obligation­s impacting on when players can arrive.

France have been clean swept in 2018, 2013 and 2009. Wales in 2016 and 2010, Ireland in 2012 and 2006 and England in 2014 and 2008, while the British and Irish Lions were beaten 3-0 in 2005.

They had more success in 2017, squaring the three test series 1-1 but the last Northern country to win in New Zealand was England way back in 2003.

But history doesn’t always predict the future and this is an Ireland side that has won 12 of their last 13 tests, two better than the All Blacks whose defeats last year were against South Africa, Ireland and France.

What is of huge interest in this series is who Foster picks and what style of rugby the All Blacks attempt to play.

Jordie Barrett wanted to play fullback last year and is keen to be a second five this year. Will he play there, or will Quinn Tupaea or Roger Tuivasa-Sheck get the nod?

Will TJ Perenara hold off Finlay Christie, Brad Weber and Folau Fakatava at halfback and who starts between Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett at first five?

There is a richness of loose forwards to pick from and it will be fascinatin­g to see how skipper Sam Cane responds under intense pressure at openside.

But the real test for the All Blacks is up front, in the set pieces and in general play.

The All Blacks tight forward used to be fitter, faster and more skilful than everyone else. That is no longer the case.

France, South Africa, perhaps England and definitely Ireland have caught up.

The question now is what impact that will have on the three test series in July.

As always, I am keen to hear from you. Your feedback is always welcome. Just email me: jim@nzrugbywor­

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