New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster has said that his side will not be altering their preparations in light of the suspension of Ireland centre Bundee Aki.
On Monday, a judicial committee handed the 29-year-old a three-match ban following his dangerous tackle on Ulupano Seuteni during Ireland’s win over Samoa, thus ruling him out of Saturday’s clash in Toyko.
While Ireland are yet to make a call on an appeal, for now, it is expected that Robbie Henshaw will partner Garry Ringrose in the centre, despite his lack of game time.
When asked if his suspension would cause the All Blacks to alter their preparations, Foster insisted that Aki was just one of Ireland’s talented midfielders.
“No, not really. They’ve got some great midfielders and he’s one of them.
“They’ve got (Robbie) Henshaw, (Garry) Ringrose, (Chris) Farrell, they’ve got a number of really good players. Whoever plays there is going to play well.”
Ireland have enjoyed success in their recent clashes with New Zealand with a win-lose-win record since 2016. Their most recent victory against the Southern Hemisphere side came in Dublin in November of last year with Jacob Stockdale’s try securing a 16-9 result.
Foster maintains that game will have no bearing on Saturday’s outcome.
“We just got beat by a good Irish team. That was a different time, a different place. Is it relevant? We learned some stuff, they would have learned some stuff so we actually don’t get stuck too much in the past.
“It’s more about the excitement of the challenges in front of us.”
Ireland’s form has noticeably dipped since that victory and after struggling through their Six Nations campaign, Joe Schmidt’s men recorded a mixed World Cup pool, finishing second behind Japan.
However, Foster believes that Ireland’s form so far in the competition has been “pretty good”.
“A lot’s been made of the performance against Japan and I think, if you flip that over, you’ve probably got to pat Japan on the back for the game.
“Ireland were pretty ruthless against Scotland and they looked good against Samoa with 14 men. I’m pretty sure they’ll be primed and ready.”
New Zealand, meanwhile, have enjoyed a much smoother start to their World Cup campaign. Following their opening-round victory over South Africa, the side breezed past Canada and Namibia before their final pool game against Italy was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.
The All Blacks are currently the favourites to retain the Webb Ellis Cup for the third tournament in a row but with huge hurdles to overcome before then, the side are fully focused on this weekend’s clash.
“This is the type of week we’ve been preparing for for a long, long time. We simulate it, we have a lot of big tests and we know everyone comes for us every time we play.
“Yet this is where you really test yourself against a great team on the big stage. Are we better prepared than four years ago? I think we’re trying to prepare as well as we can for this group.”