Defending World Champions New Zealand step up the defence of their Rugby World Cup title in the Japanese capital of Tokyo on Saturday with a mouthwatering clash against Ireland.
If back-to-back Rugby World Cup wins is not enough underline the All Blacks dominance, the fact Ireland have only beaten New Zealand twice in 31 meetings should go some way to highlight the magnitude of the challenge facing Joe Schmidt’s side.
The sides have only met once on the global stage, with the All Blacks running out 43-19 winners in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1995, but Ireland’s two victories have both come in the Schmidt era.
New Zealand v Ireland
Venue: Tokyo Stadium
Watch live: ITV, Saturday, 11:15am (UK Time)
After 111 years of waiting, Ireland finally overcame the All Blacks curse on Soldier Field, Chicago in 2016, ending an 18-match unbeaten run for New Zealand with a 40-29 win, before claiming another triumph, 16-9, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin two years later.
However, while Steve Hansen’s New Zealand have made a faultless start to the 2019 edition of the Rugby World Cup, Ireland, who entered the tournament as World No 1, have stuttered.
Impressive in their opening display to defeat fellow Home Nation Scotland, Ireland went on to take a Pool A lead, before being felled by hosts Japan, who would go on to top the Pool with a perfect record.
The All Blacks, too, have a perfect record – their last game a scoreless draw due to Typhoon Hagibis – having won three Pool B matches, including a triumph over pre-tournament joint favourites South Africa in their first outing.
Schmidt and Ireland know what it is to defeat the All Blacks, but their reputation on this special stage and the fact Hansen’s men are simmering; poised to switch into World Champion mode anytime makes this near mission impossible for the Emerald Isle.
Ben’s Prediction: New Zealand win by 22 points
Matches odds with Coral: New Zealand 1/6 Draw 33/1 Ireland 4/1
Coral verdict with Harry Aitkenhead: “Ireland’s outright odds drifting to 16/1, much longer than they were at the start of the tournament, show the two sides to this one. On the one hand the Irish have looked out of sorts, not knowing their best XV and now struggling even more with the loss of Bundee Aki. Their failure to top the group means they now face the All Blacks, making their route to glory twice as hard, and they come up against a rested New Zealand side who have shown all their class at various points in their three matches to date.
“It’s 4/1 for the upset here and the -12.5 on NZ suggests that they are expected to win by two scores at least. The first score of the match being a New Zealand try at 9/4 is a popular early bet and Ireland will need to keep them quiet early on to stand any chance.”