Head coach Joe Schmidt has kept the changes to a minimum for Ireland’s first official knockout match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The most expected change, due to Bundee Aki’s three-week suspension, sees Robbie Henshaw move from outside centre to inside centre to accommodate for Gary Ringrose.
Twelve of Schmidt’s starting side also started for Ireland in last year’s first-ever victory over New Zealand in Dublin. That victory marked Ireland’s second win over the All Blacks after they’d finally got the duck off their backs in Chicago in 2016.
It will be a special night for Connor Murray and Johnny Sexton, who will start together for the 56th time. That gives them the outright record for Irish halves combinations, eclipsing the 55 matches produced by Peter String and Ronan O’Gara.
No doubt Murray and Sexton won’t be focussed on the achievement, instead trying to navigate Ireland through to the World Cup semifinals for the first time in their history.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby was wary of how New Zealand can turn a match from a closely-fought affair to a landslide victor in just moments.
“[New Zealand] have the ability across the board to hurt you and they’re probably most dangerous when it’s loose and maybe get a turnover and are able to do what they did against South Africa – and go from 3-0 down to a 17-3 lead very quickly,” said Easterby.
“Things like that can happen very quickly if you’re not on your game, so we’re fully aware of that. We’ve seen that ourselves in recent games, how dangerous they can be. We know that if you give them a sniff, they’ll take their opportunities.”
New Zealand have adopted some slightly different tactics this year when compared to 2018 – possibly due to how Ireland shut the All Blacks out of the game last year.
“I don’t know whether it’s solely down to that game – but I guess every team gets to a point where they must keep evolving and trying to stay ahead of their opposition. We’re no different,” Easterby said.
“They have so many threats across the park. They are a team that ensure you can’t switch off for a minute. They have enough ball players to play certain styles but they also have the ability to play a set-piece game and muscle up. In our phase attack, we have to look after the ball and make sure we don’t give them any soft turnover opportunities.
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“Without the ball, we need to be on the money and our set-piece has to stand up. It’s going to be a real challenge for us as a forward pack. Whether it was in Chicago or the last couple of times, the game is certainly set there in terms of tone.
“Both teams will be looking to do that and the rest of your game can thrive off the foundation you set up front.”
The match between Ireland and New Zealand will kick off at 7:15PM JST from Tokyo on Saturday night.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Gary Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (c), Cian Healy. Reserves: Nial Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Joey Carberry, Jordan Larmour.
Japan fans were in raptures after their side downed Scotland to take top spot in Pool A, setting Ireland up for their encounter with the All Blacks:
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