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How the All Blacks view their growing rivalry with Ireland

By Alex McLeod
Ireland celebrate downing the All Blacks in 2018. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Up until five years ago, Ireland had never beaten the All Blacks in all of the matches the two sides had played in against each other since 1905.

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Having been unbeaten for 111 years, it was easy, from a New Zealand perspective, to dismiss the Irish as a quality side, but one that wasn’t at the same standard of the Wallabies, Springboks, England or France.

That notion changed in Chicago in 2016, though, as the men from the Emerald Isle clinched a famous first-ever victory over their Kiwi counterparts in a shock 40-29 win at Soldier Field.

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They then doubled down on their success with an equally, if not even more, impressive 16-9 victory over their Kiwi counterparts on home soil two years later.

Ever since those two results, the New Zealand public’s respect for Ireland in rugby terms has skyrocketed, but All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock believes his side’s admiration for this weekend’s opposition has always been held in high regard.

Speaking to media ahead of Sunday’s [NZT] clash against Ireland in Dublin, in their first visit back to Aviva Stadium since their defeat three years ago, Whitelock spoke of the challenges the Irish have provided the All Blacks in his lengthy test career.

The 130-test veteran made his international debut against Ireland in New Plymouth in 2010, and has since played the world’s fifth-ranked side on nine occasions, including in the loss in the Irish capital in 2018.

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Whitelock said New Zealand’s rivalry with Ireland, which many view as one that has only blossomed over the last half-decade, has been a long-standing one as he recounted some of the stern Irish tests he has been involved in over the past 11 years.

“I think that rivalry has been there for a long time,” the 33-year-old lock said on Saturday [NZT], a day out from his team’s penultimate match of the 2021 international season.

“I know in some of my first games, I played against the Irish at home in New Zealand, and every year, those games were always tough, and sometimes the scoreboard never reflected that.

“I think of a game in Christchurch [in 2012, won by the All Blacks 22-19], DC [Dan Carter] hit a drop goal to win it, and that’s a long time ago, eight or nine years ago, so I think it’s always been there.”

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While the All Blacks have regularly come up trumps in matches against Ireland, Whitelock said the closeness of some of their encounters, including the 2012 clash in Christchurch, have meant the All Blacks could never take the Irish lightly.

“Great teams get up there and play well, and that’s something for us to understand that there’s always history and we’ll never be disappointed with what the Irish bring,” he said.

“They’ve always got to bring their best game for us because they want to go out and beat us, as they do every team, and it’s the same for us.

“We want to make sure we don’t disappoint them with how we’re playing. We want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward.

“It’s really easy to say that, and sometimes it’s harder to actually go out there and do it, but I’m sure the effort will be there and it’s the first thing that we always expect as senior All Blacks.

“The effort’s the first thing and everything else falls in behind.”

Kick-off for this weekend’s test between the All Blacks and Ireland is scheduled for 4:15am Sunday [NZT].

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