Ireland got their Autumn Nations Series off to a perfect start with a 60-5 victory against Japan, but they face a much bigger task against the All Blacks this Saturday.
Andy Farrell will be delighted with how Ireland performed against Japan, as they executed an extremely fast-paced attacking game plan to near perfection, and they will need to put in a performance of similar quality to beat the All Blacks.
No Ireland player put in a bad performance against Japan, but there are certain personnel who are arguably more suited to playing against the All Blacks than they are against the Japanese.
As a result, we have made a few changes to the team that took on Japan at the weekend, for what is undoubtedly Ireland’s biggest game of the autumn internationals.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) November 8, 2021
Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong.
Same again for Ireland in the starting front row in a combination that will likely be used on numerous occasions for years to come.
Furlong looked back to his best with two great runs in open play, and while Kelleher wasn’t quite as impactful as he often is, HIS line out throwing seems to have improved over the summer.
Porter is largely unexperienced at loose head, and did give away one scrum penalty against Japan, but overall he played well and offers more in open play than Cian Healy, who can replace him if he does start to struggle in the scrum.
Iain Henderson and James Ryan.
Ulster captain Iain Henderson came off the bench against Japan, having played very little rugby for his province since returning from the British and Irish Lions tour, but he is a big game player who rarely disappoints.
Ryan hasn’t been at his very best for Ireland over the last year or so, but he is tireless in defence and is crucial to how his country’s line out operates.
Beirne was somewhat quiet against Japan, and was unable to make much of an impact at the breakdown, although in his defence the Brave Blossoms rarely had the ball, but he is perhaps more suited to playing in the back row.
Tadhg Beirne, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan.
As stated above, Beirne may be able to have more of an impact at the breakdown if he is selected in the back row, and adds plenty of size and mobility to the Irish pack.
Caelan Doris played well for Ireland against Japan, but his power and energy could prove to be invaluable for Ireland off the bench late on against the All Blacks, should the game go down to the wire.
Van der Flier and Conan were both excellent against Japan and appear to now be locked in as Ireland’s starting open side flanker and number eight.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
Jamieson Gibson-Park played very well against Japan, providing quick ball to his backline on a regular basis, but he has been caught out against alert opposition defences before and could be again against New Zealand.
Murray will have to play more quickly than usual if he wants to maintain the tempo that Ireland played at against Japan, but his experience and cool head could prove to be crucial this Saturday.
Sexton showed he still has the goods at 36 years old against Japan and is the obvious choice to captain his country against the All Blacks.
Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.
No changes at centre for Ireland after an impressive display from both Aki and Ringrose against Japan. Both men excelled in attack and defence and will hope to repeat their performance from Ireland’s last win against New Zealand in 2018.
Robbie Henshaw would likely be starting if not for his injury after his heroics on the Lions tour, but Aki and Ringrose are a very talented centre pairing nonetheless.
Keith Earls, Andrew Conway and Hugo Keenan.
James Lowe showed what he is capable of in attack against Japan, and while he wasn’t exposed in defence at the weekend, concerns still linger over his defensive abilities.
Japan rarely had the ball and didn’t have the opportunity to expose any defensive frailties Lowe might have, but the All Blacks could look to target him after poor performances off the ball from the winger last season.
Earls remains solid in attack and defence, while Conway and Keenan both looked excellent against Japan in all aspects, and deserve to start against New Zealand.
Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Joey Carbery and James Lowe.
Dan Sheehan looked good coming off the bench against Japan, but with just 26 minutes of test rugby under his belt, it’s hard to argue that he should be selected ahead of the experienced Rob Herring.
Ryan Baird and Caelan Doris will add plenty of athleticism and power late on, while Gibson-Park will be able to up the pace in the closing stages against New Zealand if needed.
Lowe is a valuable attacking option off the bench, and could prove to be a nightmare against some of his tiring former team mates late on.