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'We're the underdogs': All Blacks great says Ireland are 'favourites' ahead of first test

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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The All Blacks will be the underdogs when they host Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland in the first match of the two nations’ three-test this Saturday.


That’s the verdict according to All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan, who believes the Irish are the favourites heading into the much-anticipated series opener.

Kirwan told The Breakdown that he believes that due to the fact that Ireland have won three of their last five tests against the All Blacks, including the most recent encounter between the two teams, a 29-20 win in Dublin last November.

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The 1987 World Cup-winning wing added that the Irish were among Europe’s top rugby nations and praised their highly-structured attacking style of play, which he suggested will pose a threat for the All Blacks.

“I think the two northern hemisphere sides that have taken some southern hemisphere style and made it better and added their own style, I think France and Ireland are the two best European sides, I believe, on their day,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

“You were there, Goldie [ex-All Blacks star Jeff Wilson], you and I on the sidelines when they beat us over there and they were outstanding, and they’re outstanding in their attack patterns.

“I saw stuff out there that day that I’d never seen before. I think they probably go in, besides being away from home, they go in favourites.”


Kirwan’s comments drew the ire of Wilson, the former All Blacks outside back and fellow panellist who told The Breakdown that his colleague’s comments were “ridiculous”.

Strongly refuting Kirwan’s claims, Wilson pointed to New Zealand’s 28-year unbeaten streak at Eden Park, a record that dates back to 1994, when France were the last team to topple the All Blacks at their spiritual home ground.

“That is the most ridiculous comment, JK, to say they that are the favourites coming in,” Wilson told The Breakdown.

“It’s a tour at the end of the year and you’re saying they’ll beat us. Are you trying to say the All Blacks are underdogs at home? Are you serious? At Eden Park? You have got to be kidding me.”


When Kirwan responded by saying “that is exactly what I am saying loud and clear”, Wilson doubled down on his sentiments.


While he conceded that Ireland pose multiple threats across the park, Wilson noted that the All Blacks thumped the Irish in the biggest match of their last five meetings, a 46-14 victory at the 2019 World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo.

In the eyes of the former 60-test international, that is enough to solidify the All Blacks as the favourites to extend their unbeaten run at Eden Park this weekend.

“What was the most significant of those games? It was a quarter-final in a Rugby World Cup, and how much did we put on them? We put 50 on them,” Wilson said when Kirwan highlighted that Ireland have won more than they have lost in recent tests against the All Blacks.

When it comes down to it, there’s no doubt they’re a threat. They’ve got some talent. Jonathan Sexton is world-class. Jamison Gibson-Park has become a quality halfback at the international level, and their forward pack, the development of the way their props play the game.

“We recognise all of the threats, there’s no doubt about it, but to say they’re the favourites against the All Blacks in New Zealand, Andy Farrell’s thinking to himself, ‘What’s JK on?’”

Former Maori All Blacks lock Joe Wheeler sided with Wilson on the matter as he also labelled Kirwan’s comments as “ridiculous”.

“No it doesn’t, because they’ve all been either in Ireland or the US, not New Zealand,” Wheeler told The Breakdown in response to Kirwan’s claims that Ireland are the favourites because they have won three of their last five tests against the All Blacks.

“We haven’t lost to Ireland in New Zealand. That’s just ridiculous.”

Kick-off for Saturday’s test between the All Blacks and Ireland is scheduled for 7:05pm [NZT].


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