With the announcement of the Irish team during this week, fans look ahead to Saturday. A sigh of relief could be heard all over the country when Mack Hansen and James Lowe were cleared to play despite injury doubts.
Irish players James Ryan, Robbie Henshaw, and Keith Earls will miss out on the squad selection due to injury.
Hansen suffered a calf injury as well as having a HIA against Scotland. James Lowe was subject to an eye poke from his teammate, Tadhg Beirne! Lowe played for the rest of the first half until he was taken off. Due to these injuries, we saw many positional changes to try and make the team flow well again. Conor Murray and Stuart McCloskey were brought onto the field to play their usual positions. (Inside-center and scrumhalf). Bundee Aki was moved into outside-centre. Ringrose moved out to the wing position as did Jamison Gibson-Park.
This is the first time we have seen Gibson-Park on the wing. He is relatively small for the position yet played better than many may have expected. He made important tackles and used his scrumhalf passing skills to execute back plays in the Scottish half.
Ringrose, we have seen in the wing before, for Leinster. Last weekend we saw him do a winger’s job up to a great standard. His play in the backfield was outstanding with a notable kick, unlucky not to be a 50/22. He made some great catches in the backfield, most notably his sensational control of the rugby ball at his feet.
The people of Ireland worry about the two outside backs of Hansen and Lowe being rushed back onto the field. Everyone may agree it is essential for them to play so that Ireland has a higher chance of advancing to the semi-final of the World Cup. But, if they do become re-injured while playing the physical All Blacks side, will Ireland react in the same way as against Scotland?
If Ireland reacts similarly to this, the biggest question is whether Gibson-Park can handle Leicester Fainga’anuku or Will Jordan. The two New Zealand wingers are very big in comparison to Gibson-Park. If The All Blacks make a line break on the wing when Gibson-Park is holding in the backfield, does he have the physicality to tackle them while they are running at pace?
Questions were asked when Andy Farell selected Jimmy O’Brien for the game replacements instead of McCloskey. By no means did McCloskey have a bad game against Scotland. He, in fact, played well in his pressurizing first game of the tournament. He made 0 handling errors. He had 0 turnovers. He attempted 12 tackles and only missed one. That is unbelievable for a player who would have been expected to be relatively rusty as he had not played a game for his country for quite some time.
Has Andy Farrell made the right decision? O’Brien is undoubtedly an extremely talented player. But he is young. O’Brien has not played a single minute so far this tournament. This game against the All Blacks is arguably the most important game of the tournament. And with injury concerns, it’s a big possibility O’Brien plays. When you look at it more in-depth, it makes sense to have O’Brien because of the injury concerns to the outside backs- when he himself plays as an outside back. But it makes one think, is it the right time to place this pressure on O’Brien’s shoulders?
Every question we ask is certain to be answered when the match is played. The Irish people have learned to trust Farrell’s decisions since he joined the Irish squad. The only proof of success that is needed is his 17-game win streak. Ireland have not lost a match since their game against New Zealand on July 2nd, 2022. Since then, Ireland have beaten The All Blacks twice in the 2 weeks following that game.
Presuming Hansen and Lowe play the full game, Gibson-Park will certainly stay in the 9 position. He will be going up against Aaron Smith. The Kiwi scrumhalf. Aaron Smith has recently found some great form, solidifying himself as a top 3 player of the position in the world. In many people’s eyes, he is number one. Smith is known to be a consistent player and is not known to make mistakes. He is without a doubt a tough matchup, not only for Gibson-Park but also for the whole Irish squad due to his vision. Ireland will have to be careful to contain his talents.
The All-Black pack weighs 813kg, a substantial 25 kilograms heavier than Ireland’s pack. -(788kg). Ireland will be looking to end their problem of collapsing scrums which they had against Scotland and caused them to concede unnecessary penalties. New Zealand will be sure to be less forgiving than Scotland with these penalties.
A matchup we are all excited to see is Johnny Sexton and Richie Mo’unga. The two greatest 10s in the world right now. Will they cancel each other out, or will one outplay the other? It is a possibility that this will be Sexton’s last international game of his career so he will not hold back. We know Sexton does not let his age keep him from playing at a world-class level. To him, it means nothing. Especially in a game of such importance in the knockout stages of the most famous rugby tournament in the world. Mo’unga will be looking to make sure Sexton makes no difference to the game’s result. He will be trying to have Johnny Sexton never play an international game again.
Bundee Aki is playing the best rugby of his career. The All Blacks will defend him heavily and look to stop him from doing what he does best- making line breaks with pure physicality. It is no secret Aki has the muscle mass to play in the forwards. He uses this to his advantage in breaking through tackles and making carries that tire the opposition’s defense. Will Bundee be the deciding factor in the game ahead? Or will The All Blacks find a way to stop the ‘unstoppable’ force.
To come out of the game victorious Ireland will have to be tight on defense. They will need to be on the same wavelength at all times and they must not panic. There is no other way to stop New Zealand’s fast-paced offensive game and their rapid forwards.
Will Ireland break the quarter-final curse and get revenge for their loss to NZ in the 2019 RWC Quarter-final?…
With reporting from Scoreline’s Donagh Maher.