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Ireland vs New Zealand: Guinness Series Test talking points

johnny sexton, Kieran read
Image: Will Johnny Sexton and co be able to out-perform Kieran Read's charges?

Ireland and New Zealand meet for the first time in two years on Saturday (kick-off 7pm), as the No 2-ranked side in the world welcome the No 1-ranked team to Dublin.

Ireland have only beaten New Zealand once in their history, and have yet to defeat the back-to-back world champions in Dublin.

Here are five talking points ahead of Saturday's clash at the Aviva Stadium at 7pm...

Ireland's lineout focus

At Twickenham last week, New Zealand attacked the England lineout during the second half and profited in the form of three Brodie Retallick steals.

Such moments quelled English momentum and played a major part in the Test as the All Blacks got over the line by a single point.

Image: Brodie Retallick wreaked havoc with the England lineout at Twickenham last week

By contrast, Ireland's lineout struggled in their 28-17 win over Argentina last week, with Rory Best and co losing three.

Such a set-piece performance was surprising as the lineout has so often proved a pillar of strength for Ireland.

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What is not surprising, therefore, is the reactionary inclusion of Leinster lock Devin Toner in the second row as a measure to potentially shore up the lineout. Ulster's Iain Henderson - who called the lineout last week - has dropped down to the bench.

Ireland's Devin Toner is confident ahead of England clash
Image: Devin Toner has been restored to the Ireland second row

In Joe Schmidt's 60 Tests in charge of Ireland since November 2013, Toner has featured in 55 of them - the most of any other player. He may have begun on the bench for Ireland's Grand Slam decider at Twickenham in March, but he's back in alongside James Ryan for the visit of the All Blacks.

The lineout battle will likely prove decisive at the Aviva.

Devin Toner catches a lineout against Scotland
Image: Joe Schmidt has brought Toner back in to firm up a lineout which misfired last week against Argentina

Expect things to be physical

Back in November 2016, Ireland played the All Blacks twice in two weeks.

They met first in Chicago as a monumental Test match, which saw nine tries scored between the two teams, resulted in Ireland recording a historic first win over New Zealand in 111 years.

Two weeks later, New Zealand were a different animal as Steve Hansen's men produced a performance encapsulating an all-out assault. A display of physical proportions rarely witnessed at Test level.

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 05:  Robbie Henshaw of Ireland celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's fifth try during the international match between I
Image: Ireland defeated New Zealand in Chicago two years ago, but faced a very different All Blacks side two weeks later

Robbie Henshaw, CJ Stander and Johnny Sexton departed injured. Two Kiwis were sin-binned - the second of which came after a Malakai Fekitoa tackle on Simon Zebo so high the citing commissioner Bruce Kuklinski later decreed a red card should have been presented.

Indeed Ireland's team manager at the time, Mick Kearney, revealed afterwards that some 12 incidents were reviewed by citing commissioner Kuklinski - 11 of which were committed by New Zealand.

Ireland's centre Robbie Henshaw is carted off with concussion during the defeat to New Zealand
Image: Henshaw was stretchered off early against New Zealand in 2016 after a shot to the head by Sam Cane

When asked if there was bad blood between the two sides because of some of the hits from that last meeting, Schmidt replied at his Thursday press conference: "I think people can make their own minds up about those. I know the feedback we got was that there was some unnecessary.

"There were some decisions made by the referee [Jaco Peyper] that day which befuddled everybody, and I don't think there's any confusion with that.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 10: Joe Schmidt, head coach of Ireland during the International Friendly match between Ireland and Argentina at Aviva Stadium on November 10, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Image: Joe Schmidt says he expects a 'spiky' contest with New Zealand on Saturday after the most-recent clash between the two

"But at the same time, we've got to get out there and give as good as we get, and that's what's going to make it a fairly spiky contest this weekend I would think."

Irish injuries

While Ireland are likely to expect a combination of rip-roaring attacking and immense physicality from the All Blacks in Dublin on Saturday, they would love to be able to call upon some key men out injured to combat the visitors.

Murray suffered wear and tear during the June tests against Australia
Image: Conor Murray has not played since the June series with Australia owing to a repetitive neck injury

During that Chicago success two years ago, scrum-half Conor Murray was named man of the match after a superlative display, while centre Robbie Henshaw was another to stand out in one of the performances of his career. Neither men are available this weekend owing to respective neck and hamstring complaints.

Added to that, flanker Sean O'Brien - who impressed hugely for the British & Irish Lions against New Zealand in 2017 - is also absent having broken his arm against Argentina last week.

Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien leaves the field during the 28-17 win over Argentina
Image: Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien broke his arm during the first half of last week's victory over Argentina

The injury came as O'Brien was making his first Test appearance in a year and is a dreadful piece of bad fortune for the 31-year-old.

For an Ireland team minus Murray, Henshaw and O'Brien to pick up victory against the All Blacks will take a remarkable effort. It's an extremely tough ask.

during the International test match between the Australian Wallabies and Ireland at AAMI Park on June 16, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.
Image: Influential centre Robbie Henshaw is out too after a hamstring injury

The aerial battle

While Damian McKenzie sparkled with his fantastic footwork and running abilities at Twickenham, his handling abilities led to a series of knock-ons - albeit in atrocious conditions.

Many expected Hansen to revert Ben Smith to full-back in place of McKenzie for the Ireland clash and apply a bit more aerial solidity at the back, but the 23-year-old Chiefs playmaker has remained in situ.

Damian McKenzie starts at full back for New Zealand
Image: Damian McKenzie has kept his place at full-back for the All Blacks

Ireland have done the opposite: Jordan Larmour began at full-back against Argentina, but after a number of dropped balls, the experienced Rob Kearney is drafted straight back in.

Both Ireland and New Zealand tend to kick to compete a lot - though without Murray, Ireland may not be so efficient in this area.

Whichever player can take charge in the sky, could drive their team on top.

Ireland full-back Rob Kearney
Image: Rob Kearney has replaced Jordan Larmour at full-back for Ireland

Crotty back in the game

Despite his consistently brilliant performances, midfield back Ryan Crotty has missed out on selection for New Zealand in recent times due to a combination of injury and a reluctance to remove Sonny Bill Williams from the fray.

Williams' injury last week at Twickenham has seen Crotty brought in to partner Crusaders team-mate Jack Goodhue for Saturday's Test in the only change to the All Black side.

Ryan Crotty looks to get through Kurtley Beale
Image: Ryan Crotty is the only change to the All Blacks team which beat England 16-15 last week

The centre had a superb impact off the bench against England last week, making the burst which created the opening for McKenzie's crucial first score, and settling the All Blacks down in the face of a rampant England XV.

Back in 2013, Ireland suffered an agonising 24-22 defeat to New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, conceding a near length of the field score in dead time. The try scorer that day? Crotty.

The centre has history in Dublin, and will be looking to spoil another Irish party.

"These are the types of Test matches that gets everyone up - it's No 1 versus No 2 - and there's a real excitement that's building as we get closer to Saturday," head coach Hansen has said.

Team News

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best (c), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Devin Toner, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 CJ Stander.

Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Joey Carberry, 23 Jordan Larmour.

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Sam Whitelock, 6 Liam Squire, 7 Ardie Savea, 8 Kieran Read (c).

Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo'unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.

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