Old rivalries set to ignite at Eden Park

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For first five-eighths Beauden Barrett, it is another contest against the Irish playmaker Jonny Sexton. Halfback Aaron Smith is up against Jamison Gibson-Park, a connection from their earliest days of Super Rugby.

 

Barrett had seen how much Ireland had grown in his decade of Test rugby. They were a quality side who were well-coached for several years, and with Sexton, they had a player who understood how they wanted to play.

 

Smith was looking forward to renewing his rivalry with Gibson-Park. They had had some great battles in the past, and it had been impressive how he had become No1 halfback in Ireland. Smith watched from the stand in Dublin last year as Gibson-Park helped Ireland to their most recent win over the All Blacks.

 

"He's a big part of our plans this weekend by trying to make sure he has a slower night than how they like to play but he's a quality player, plays at tempo and is a pretty good heads-up player as well," he said.

 

Barrett felt the All Blacks were more connected after Covid's intrusion, especially among the coaching group with head coach Ian Foster, forwards coach John Plumtree and defence coach Scott McLeod, each forced to isolate away from the team.

"We've been forced to lead a little earlier on, in the week, which has been great. It's allowed us to step up and take a little more control early on in the week, where the coaches would probably have a little more influence.

 

"Other than that it's been a great week, simplifying our game and the opportunity to get out there on the weekend is something we're pretty pumped up about," he said.

 

They had a good set-piece and a breakdown they prided themselves on. They deserved their status when the world's No1 team, and the All Blacks felt that last year.

 

"In Dublin, the intensity of that Test match is why they are right up there," he said.

 

Barrett said he had been impressed with new left-wing Leicester Fainga'anuku's professionalism and how educated he was about the game.

 

"For him to get an opportunity this week is well deserved and it's exciting to see him go at training," he said.

 

Smith said the No11 jersey was a sacred jersey in the All Blacks' team and anyone who got to put it on had a special opportunity.

 

"Leicester's excited about that but I think we're all pretty excited to see how Leicester goes. He's such a powerful runner, sees the game well. You can just see it in their eyes, the nerves, the excitement…I can't wait to see him go," he said. 

Second five-eighths Quinn Tupaea had several Tests behind him now, and a great Super Rugby season, and had been rewarded on the back of that, he said.

 

Smith said it didn't get much bigger than having Ireland in New Zealand as the rivalry between the sides had grown in the last four or five years.

 

"Every Test match is hard but it is going to be really nice to play Ireland at home. We're ready to go," he said.

 

Playing the first Test of the year at Eden Park, had been on his mind all the way through Super Rugby.

 

"That's what we've been talking about as leaders and how exciting an opportunity it is to play a great team like Ireland and play them at Eden Park," he said.

 

Smith said the side still had 'scar tissue' from their loss to Ireland last year and also to France and although eight or nine months ago, the losses had created a hunger in the squad.

 

Absorbing those memories, they had applied much more concentration had been around their skill sets and improving as a team in 2022. There had been some good aspects of their last year, and the goal was to build on them.

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