It’s almost 10 years ago now that Ireland suffered a last-gasp defeat against the All Blacks in Dublin after holding a 15-point lead at half-time. That game took Ireland to 28 matches against New Zealand in their Test history without a win. Coming so close in 2013 must have felt like they’d never overcome the All Blacks curse. Since then though, Ireland have won five of the eight encounters between the two nations, including a series win in New Zealand last year and they will go into this weekend’s clash hoping to break another curse, namely ending their abysmal quarter-final record which stands at played seven, lost seven.
The Irish come into this game match having navigated the ‘Pool of Death’, edging past South Africa before dismantling Scotland in their all-important final fixture. New Zealand had to settle for second place in Pool A, after an opening night defeat to France in Paris at the Stade de France. Incredibly, that was the first time they’d ever lost a pool stage match in the tournament. After that, Namibia, Italy and Uruguay all felt their wrath as New Zealand coasted into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals without breaking much of a sweat.
Route to the Knockouts
As you’d expect from two of the top teams in the world, both sides are strong in almost every facet of the game. One area in particular that both excel in is giving themselves plenty of chances to score. They then take those opportunities with ruthless efficiency. The All Blacks and Ireland have both averaged 14.5 22 entries per game at this year’s Rugby World Cup, more than any other team, while they rank in the top four for points per entry as well. New Zealand average the most (4.4) and Ireland (3.2) sit fractionally behind France (3.4) and South Africa (3.3).
New Zealand’s attack has been exceptional as always. They have the best gainline success rate of any team this year (66%) and have made 64 line breaks – no other side has made 50+. Meanwhile, Ireland’s work at the breakdown has been eye-catching. Only Argentina (70%) have completed a higher percentage of rucks under three seconds than Andy Farrell’s men (69%), while they rank in the top five for retaining possession from their rucks (96.3%). Defensively, they’ve made 21 breakdown steals at this World Cup, more than any other team.
It’s hard to say that Ireland or New Zealand are weak in any particular area, although there will certainly be things they’ll want to tidy up on ahead of the weekend. Ireland’s 89% success rate from their 22 exit attempts is the lowest of any quarter-finalist while only Fiji and Argentina have lower tackle success rates of any side in the last eight (86.7%).
If Ireland have few weaknesses then New Zealand have even fewer. Attack, defence, set-piece, discipline… the All Blacks are one of the standout teams all across the pitch. It is over a month since New Zealand lost to France in their opener, which was essentially the pool decider, and since then they’ve won every game and scored 70+ points in each of them. Therefore, their biggest weakness might be the fact they’ve not been tested in a high-pressure match for five weeks, which is a contrast to Ireland who overcame their two biggest challenges in their last two pool-stage matches.
Leinster duo Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris have impressed with their work rate this campaign. The former is the only player to hit 100+ attacking rucks this year, while only Uruguay’s Manuel Ardao has hit more defensive rucks than Doris (39). However, it is Bundee Aki who has been one of the standout players in the competition overall. He’s made the most carries (61) of any player and topped the charts for metres carried (567) and defenders beaten (23) while he also sits joint second for line breaks.
The New Zealand backs have been in fine form this World Cup and Ian Foster will have had a real selection dilemma with so many putting their hands up for selection. Damian McKenzie (2.7) and Leicester Fainga’anuku (2.8) are two of just three players to have registered 2.5+ try involvements per 80 minutes this campaign, while Fainga’anuku has also beaten the most defenders per 80 minutes of any player (8.5). Will Jordan has also been in fine form, scoring four tries to take his All Blacks tally to 27 tries in 28 Tests, and he’s made nine line breaks overall – only Damian Penaud has made more (11).
Ireland v New Zealand Prediction
Win prediction: Ireland 54.4% – Draw 0.8% – New Zealand 44.8%
Score prediction: Ireland 25-24 New Zealand
The Opta supercomputer has Ireland as slight favourites to progress to the semi-finals. But it really is by the barest of margins. The score prediction has Ireland to win against the Kiwis by just a solitary point.
Ireland v New Zealand Lineups
Ireland’s team is unchanged, while New Zealand make six changes to their starting XV.
Ireland: 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Iain Henderson, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 11 James Lowe, 12 Bundee Aki, 13 Garry Ringrose, 14 Mack Hansen, 15 Hugo Keenan
New Zealand: 1 Ethan de Groot, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Shannon Frizell, 7 Sam Cane (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 9 Aaron Smith, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 Jordie Barrett, 13 Rieko Ioane, 14 Will Jordan, 15 Beauden Barrett
Other Quarter-Final Match-ups
- Ireland v New Zealand
- England v Fiji
- France v South Africa