Match details: All Blacks v Ireland, Saturday 16 July, 7.05pm NZT, Sky Stadium, Wellington.
Won: All Blacks 30, Ireland 4, Drawn 1
Last time: All Blacks 12, Ireland 23 (9 July 2022)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
CH, CH, CHANGES
The All Blacks have welcomed back a wealth of experience for Saturday’s crunch Test. In the second row, Samuel Whitelock (133 Test caps) returns from injury to join Brodie Retallick in what will be the pair’s 61st Test start together. Whitelock’s return sees Scott Barrett return to blindside flanker in a forward pack also bolstered by the return of 40-Test tighthead prop Nepo Laulala, who is set to make his first appearance of the season along with Dane Coles (80) and Akira Ioane (13) on the bench. Second-five eighths David Havili has returned after Covid to take his place in the midfield alongside centre Rieko Ioane who is set to earn his 50th Test cap.
EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE
With the Steinlager Series on the line, the All Blacks face their biggest match on home soil since the British and Irish Lions decider in 2017. Loose forward Ardie Savea said the challenge is one the team is embracing. "I love being written off. After a performance like that [in Dunedin], we know what we need to do. We learn from it. Now it is about embracing the challenge. And what a week to do it - in Wellington.”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE MEN IN GREEN
Former Grand Slam-winning Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll believes a win in the series decider would be greater than Ireland winning a World Cup semifinal. "It's something tangible…there is something at the end to hold onto, to be able to go, 'by the way, we beat New Zealand in their own backyard', versus 'we did great, we got to a semifinal'," O’Driscoll said.
A HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEBUT
Almost a year to the day after playing his final game for the Warriors in the NRL, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is set to make his All Blacks debut in the 23 jersey. Tuivasa-Sheck was a standout in the midfield for the Blues this season and joins Folau Fakatava and Richie Mo’unga as the back reserves in Wellington. The 29-year-old will become just the fourth player to first play international rugby league for the Kiwis before going onto represent the All Blacks, following in the footsteps of Karl Ifwersen, Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Duffie.
CLOSING IN ON 1000 POINTS
The All Blacks need to score 9 points to reach 1000 points scored against Ireland in what would be the 36th Test between the sides. The All Blacks have previously broken the 1000-point barrier against five other nations (South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Wales and France). Out of the 991 points the All Blacks have scored so far against Ireland, Dan Carter has scored the most of any individual with 87 points. In terms of tries, Doug Howlett and Frank Bunce are tied on five tries each against Ireland. In response, Ireland have racked up 460 points against the All Blacks with Johnny Sexton leading the way with 78 points.
TEAMS (caps in brackets, * denotes debut):
1. George Bower (13) 2. Codie Taylor (68) 3. Nepo Laulala (40) 4. Brodie Retallick (94) 5. Samuel Whitelock (133) 6. Scott Barrett (50) 7. Sam Cane (79) – Captain 8. Ardie Savea (61) 9. Aaron Smith (104) 10. Beauden Barrett (103) 11. Sevu Reece (19) 12. David Havili (15) 13. Rieko Ioane (49) 14. Will Jordan (14) 15. Jordie Barrett (38)
RESERVES: 16. Dane Coles (80) 17. Aidan Ross (1) 18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (46) 19. Akira Ioane (13) 20. Dalton Papalii (14) 21. Folau Fakatava (1) 22. Richie Mo’unga (34) 23. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck* (0)
1. Andrew Porter 2. Dan Sheehan 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Tadhg Beirne 5. James Ryan 6. Peter O’Mahony 7. Josh van der Flier 8. Caelan Doris 9. Jamison Gibson Park 10. Johnny Sexton (c) 11. James Lowe 12. Bundee Aki 13. Robbie Henshaw 14. Mack Hansen 15. Hugo Keenan
RESERVES: 16. Rob Herring 17. Cian Healy 18. Finlay Bealham 19. Kieran Treadwell 20. Jack Conan 21. Conor Murray 22. Joey Carbery 23. Keith Earls