Autumn international: Ireland v New Zealand (Sunday)

22 November 2013 20:39

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Autumn international: Ireland v New Zealand (Sunday)


Richie McCaw had to hand the World Cup back to the International Rugby Board during the week. A record-breaking 14th victory from 14 this year on Sunday would surely convince any doubters that the trophy is merely on loan to the sport's governing body.

Ireland announced on Monday that they are considering a bid for the 2023 World Cup. It could be the closest they get to the Webb Ellis Cup if last week's showing against Australia is anything to go by.

Outscored by four tries to nil and, more worryingly perhaps, dominated in the set-piece by a supposedly fragile Australian pack, Joe Schmidt's honeymoon period has been all too brief.

"If you look at a side like New Zealand, they score two or three tries a game and they have kickers that kick at 80%. Ireland didn't score a try v Australia and didn't look like scoring one.

The task is hard but I don't think Joe Schmidt is under any other illusion. He knows he hasn't got his players every day of every week throughout the year. So it is going to be incremental things that make the difference."

If Schmidt is in the early throes of a hoped-for romance, Brian O'Driscoll's love affair with Ireland is coming to an end.

There have been calls for the farewell tour, scheduled to end after Ireland's final Six Nations game in March, to be cut short following O'Driscoll's Australian display.

However, it would have been a brave man to ditch O'Driscoll with him one game short of equalling Ronan O'Gara's Ireland caps record.

A 60-0 thrashing last time they met in June 2012, plus 27 winless encounters since they first played in 1905, hardly inspires confidence. But a narrow 22-19 defeat last summer - thanks to a last-minute Dan Carter drop goal - shows the All Blacks are human.

Carter's absence through injury and seven changes to the Kiwi starting line-up gives other potential reasons for Ireland cheer. The availability of earlier fitness doubts Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and O'Driscoll is another boost.

Despite the manner of their defeat against Australia, Schmidt is refusing to be downbeat. "In any two-horse race there are no certainties," he said on Friday.

To the critics, Schmidt is flogging a dead horse with his continued selection of some of Ireland's old favourites. The All Blacks have taken the global game to new levels since Ireland went unbeaten through 2009. For O'Driscoll et al, victory over New Zealand might remain a hurdle too far.

Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney have all been passed fit to play in an Ireland starting XV that contains three changes from last week's 32-15 defeat against Australia.

Gordon D'Arcy is recalled at centre and Conor Murray replaces Eoin Reddan at scrum-half. Rob Kearney's brother Dave comes in on the wing for Fergus McFadden, who broke his hand against Australia, to win his second cap following a two-try debut v Samoa.

New Zealand have made seven changes. Two were enforced, with Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock both injured against England, but the other five come as a result of boss Steve Hansen's desire to inject some energetic legs into a tired camp.

Cory Jane replaces Charles Piutau on the wing with Aaron Cruden coming in for Carter at fly-half.

There are four changes in the pack with an all-new front row featuring Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina and Andrew Hore. In the second row, Luke Romano replaces Brodie Retallick, who drops to the bench, while Steven Luatua plays at flanker instead of Liam Messam.


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