The All Blacks’ heavy artillery will return next weekend in Dublin and aim for the sweet taste of revenge against a buoyant Irish side.
So who is likely to run out in black against the greens on Saturday?
The All Black backline will be decidedly different from that which faced the Irish in Chicago. The All Blacks lost their continuity and this will no doubt improve with the reinstatement of Anton Lienert-Brown at second-five and Israel Dagg likely to return to the right wing.
World Breakthrough Player of the Year nominee Lienert-Brown has been a revelation this year, and his SBW-like offloading will cause real problems for the Irish midfield. Dagg has also had highly impressive season, playing with the verve and instinct of his heyday in the 2011 World Cup, and is now, with the benefit of experience, much more strategically accurate.
Malakai Fekitoa’s improving confidence and form will see him replace the injured Ryan Crotty at centre. Ben Smith is a certainty to start at fullback, and the left wing selection will be fascinating, with Waisake Naholo running into some hot form against incumbent Julian Savea, who looked a touch sluggish in Chicago.
At fly-half, World Player of the Year nominee Beauden Barrett seems a certainty, although his up and down kicking form may test Steve Hansen’s nerve. Half-back also suddenly seems to be a position of contention, with TJ Perenara putting some serious heat on Aaron Smith. Hansen will want a fast, accurate start to silence the Dublin crowd and so the Wellington Hurricanes triumvirate of Perenara, Barrett and Savea may get the nods.
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Kieran Read will wear the No. 8 jersey and captain’s armband, while Sam Cane should retain his flanking position. Jerome Kaino will be relieved to return to his favoured blindside position after an uncomfortable time at lock in Chicago. All three will want to assert much more influence than they did in Chicago.
It is at lock where the biggest difference in performance may be seen. The return of the world-class Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will add starch in Whitelock’s bruising defence, and abrasive power and skills from Retallick going forward. The two complement each other perfectly, and the wonky All Black lineout at Soldier Field may not get an encore performance.
In the forwards, the outstanding Dane Coles will of course fulfil hooking duties but the prop positions are less clear cut. After disciplinary problems in Chicago, Joe Moody may find himself warming a grandstand seat, and Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina’s outstanding displays against Italy may see Owen Franks also relegated to the sidelines.
After the events in sport and politics in recent weeks, it is perhaps wise not to make a prediction, but this All Black side will be hungry to put a positive full stop on their year. Watch out Ireland – the beast has been poked.
Likely All Blacks XV:
15. Ben Smith; 14. Israel Dagg; 13. Malakai Fekitoa; 12. Anton-Lienert Brown; 11. Julian Savea; 10. Beauden Barrett; 9. TJ Perenara; 8. Kieran Read; 7. Sam Cane; 6. Jerome Kaino; 5. Sam Whitelock; 4. Brodie Retallick; 3. Charlie Faumuina; 2. Dane Coles; 1. Wyatt Crockett.
Owen Franks; Codie Taylor;Liam Squire; Patrick Tuipulotu; Aaron Smith; Aaron Cruden; Waisake Naholo
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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