Rugby World Cup 2019: New Zealand vs Ireland talking points
Follow New Zealand vs Ireland in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals via our live blog on Saturday morning; kick-off 11.15am Irish & UK time
By Tony Tighe
Last Updated: 19/10/19 2:52pm
New Zealand and Ireland have served up some thrilling contests in recent years and another is expected in Tokyo on Saturday as they do battle for a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Last November, Ireland made history by beating the All Blacks in Dublin for the first time. However, their form has fallen off a cliff since, suffering two heavy beatings by England and another by Wales.
Can they produce a performance for the ages and reach the semi-finals for the first time, or will the All Blacks take another step towards a third successive World Cup?
Schmidt's Midas touch
Joe Schmidt has gotten used to making history during his six years in charge of Ireland.
As well as winning three Six Nations titles, Schmidt has broken Ireland's southern hemisphere duck. They won a Test match in South Africa for the first time, won a series in Australia for the first time in almost 40 years, and more importantly, beat New Zealand for the first time.
The All Blacks were defeated again in Dublin last November, Ireland running out 16-9 victors. That remains the only time a New Zealand team has failed to hit double figures in Steve Hansen's 104 Tests in charge.
Either Schmidt or Hansen will be leading their respective teams for the final time on Saturday, with both stepping down after the tournament.
Could Schmidt sign off in style by leading Ireland past the World Cup quarter-final stages for the first time? Their form suggests not but those recent two wins over New Zealand will have given Ireland belief that the back-to-back world champions are fallible.
History stacked in NZ's favour
There has been little to separate these two teams in recent years but they remain poles apart when it comes to World Cups.
New Zealand have won six knockout games in a row. Ireland have never won one.
Past five meetings
2018: Ireland 16-9 New Zealand (Dublin)
2016: Ireland 9-21 New Zealand (Dublin)
2016: Ireland 40-29 New Zealand (Chicago)
2013: Ireland 22-24 New Zealand (Dublin)
2012: New Zealand 60-0 Ireland (Waikato)
The All Blacks have not even lost a World Cup game since 2007. They won 17 matches in a row prior to the cancellation of their game with Italy and are bidding to win a third successive crown.
Ireland, on the other hand, have never made it past the quarter-finals. Six appearances, six defeats with an average losing margin of 17 points.
The one previous World Cup meeting between these nations came during the pool stages in 1995. New Zealand were 43-19 victors at Ellis Park with Jonah Lomu scoring the first two of his record 15 World Cup tries.
Lock and loaded?
Steve Hansen has gambled by starting Brodie Retallick, despite the influential lock playing only 30 minutes of rugby since July.
Retallick returned on October 6 against Namibia after two months out with a dislocated shoulder, playing 30 minutes before being replaced to manage his playing time.
However, the 28-year-old was unable to get more minutes into his legs ahead of the knockout stages due to their final pool match against Italy being cancelled.
Hansen must be confident Retallick can quickly shake off any ring rust as the New Zealand coach needs a big performance from his pack against an Irish side who will look to dominate in the tight and strike off set-piece ball.
Retallick is reunited with Sam Whitelock in the second row and it will be a gargantuan battle that duo and Ireland's lock partnership of Iain Henderson and James Ryan.
Ryan is a world-class operator, producing consistent performances that belie his 23 years, while Henderson tends to thrive when the stakes are at their highest.
Keys to No 10
New Zealand recalibrated their approach into a twin-playmaker system in the wake of their latest loss to Ireland last November, which means Richie Mo'unga retains the No 10 shirt on Saturday with Beauden Barrett at full-back.
There is plenty of pressure on Mo'unga's shoulders, despite him only starting seven Tests. He will marking Ireland's on-field general, Johnny Sexton, who is a stickler for the structure that epitomises their game.
While the Irish have plenty of intel on New Zealand, Mo'unga isn't lacking when it comes to an understanding of opponents courtesy of Ronan O'Gara, his old Super Rugby coach at the Crusaders.
"ROG has been awesome," said Mo'unga. "He's very determined, very driven, and that gives me a little insight into what the Irish are like.
"They're going to come all guns blazing."
O'Gara combined with Peter Stringer in the halves for 55 Tests for Ireland, a national record that Sexton and Conor Murray will break this weekend.
Their first start came in New Zealand at the 2011 World Cup as Ireland struggled to put away the USA.
"I didn't think we'd last much further after three or four caps, to be honest," said Sexton.
Sexton and Murray showed signs of a return to form as a 14-man Ireland comprehensively defeated Samoa, but they need to produce a performance of 2018 levels on Saturday.
Both players' kicking will be key as Ireland must win the territorial battle to stand any chance of progressing.
The odds are stacked against Ireland but Sexton says the loss to Japan has focused Irish minds on reaching their first semi-final.
"I'm hoping that having lost a pool game that we've got that quarter-final performance out of our system that we've had in other tournaments," said Sexton.
"The way we played against Japan was probably very similar to the way we played against Wales and Argentina in the last two tournaments.
"The difference now is we're not favourites going into this quarter-final whereas we were in the last two.
"We're building nicely, we haven't hit our best performance yet and we need to get close to that to get the right result on Saturday."
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Anton Lienert Brown, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 1 Joe Moody, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Sam Whitelock, 6 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (c).
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best (c), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Iain Henderson, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.