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Ireland look to strengthen defence

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Lynn McConnell     15 Nov 2016     Getty Images

While scoring five tries in their 40-29 win over New Zealand in Chicago, Ireland also let in four tries, and then let in three in their win over Canada at the weekend.

Ireland's second-string hooker Sean Cronin told Irish media that the Irish think-tank would have been hard at work devising a plan to cope with the All Blacks.

"We are not going to be able to give away soft scores like that this weekend," Cronin said.

"That's a big area for us, on D, especially when they get into our 22. There is a big focus there. That's a big key area that we can look to up a few percent in the game at the weekend," he said.

Ireland were aware that the locking ranks would be advanced against them with Brodie Retallick assured of a return and Sam Whitelock in the frame to return from his ankle injury.

But Cronin said: "We always have confidence that we can go out and match any team on the day, as long as we put in the performance and put together the different aspects of a team the calibre of New Zealand.

"We know we have world-class players. As long as we get the attitude right, the physicality and the mentality, we know we can match anyone, but it's going to have to go up there, it's going to have to go up a few points to beat them at the weekend," he said.

Meanwhile, coach Joe Schmidt said injuries suffered by the All Blacks meant Ireland caught them at an opportune time in Chicago.

"They'd had 18 wins in a row and while they'd spent a lot of time together, a lot of that time had Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in their second row or, if not those guys, Luke Romano.

"Patrick Tuipulotu hadn't played a lot, so to have that big reshuffle in their second row, getting three lineout balls in the first half helped us.

"Then, even in the back-end of the game, Ryan Crotty has been outstanding for them. He's been the real linchpin. It's been him and Malakai Fekitoa, him and Anton Lienert-Brown, or him and George Moala, so he's been the heart of their midfield attack and defence, organising and striking some really good lines.

"Losing him when we lost Jordi [Murphy] was a blow for them and then losing Moala as well and ending up with Ardie Savea on the wing, it did allow us to manage the end game with a little bit more calmness and a little bit more proactive intent than sitting back," he said.

Schmidt felt Ireland had sat back in the third quarter. He also expected the All Blacks to hit back.

"I think they'll come full-strength, fully-loaded. Maybe we surprised them a little bit because while a lot of people were referencing 2013, we didn't have that many starters that were the same as 2013 and they had a lot of changes as well.

"They will look at us now after their Italy game, and they'll have a really good plan. I think they are incredibly well coached, I think they are incredibly well prepared physically and I think the rate they play at if they have the ball, you're under pressure if they've got it.

"They might have an opportunity to have more access to it if they've got their second row back," he said.