Schmidt's Ireland look to repeat 2016 feat by beating the All Blacks

A thriller awaits at the Aviva Stadium this evening at 7pm.

THE CHALLENGE FACING Ireland this evening from 7pm [RTÉ/Channel 4]?

A relentless assault on their defence from the best attacking team in the world.

The All Blacks have simple attacking structures but the effectiveness with which they make decisions and execute their skills is not easy to replicate.

In phase play, Steve Hansen’s team often operate with a 1-3-3-1 system that allows hookers and back rows to roam in the 15-metre channels, while skillful forwards like Brodie Retallick can carry directly or use their handling ability to tip-on short passes or go out the back door to dual playmakers Beauden Barrett and Damian McKenzie.

Platforms This is where the All Blacks' 68 tries have come from. The42 The42

The All Blacks have scored 68 tries in 12 games so far this year and their longstanding threat on turnover and kick return possession remains, with those sources initiating around 44% of their tries.

McKenzie is a key man in these unstructured situations, coming alive from the back and using his acceleration and footwork to beat exposed and uncomfortable defenders as they attempt to find structure.

Every All Blacks player buys into the try-scoring mentality on kick return and turnover, working hard off the ball to either support the ball-carrier or draw defenders away.

Interestingly, the lineout has grown as a possession platform for Kiwi tries in the last two years, with 37% of their tries beginning with their own throw into the lineout. 

They’re similarly clinical off scrums and the key point is that the All Blacks don’t run complicated plays off the set-piece, instead using simple moves that allow their players to show off their decision-making quality.

Ireland, who were cut in midfield twice by Argentina from scrums last weekend, will need to be razor sharp in denying the Kiwis opportunities from set-piece.

Attacking hooker Codie Taylor’s throw will be important, with Peter O’Mahony and the returning Devin Toner certain to be integral in that element of the game.

With New Zealand highly capable of scoring out of their own half and ultra-clinical in scoring early in their possession – 37% of their tries this year have come without a single ruck forming – Ireland’s concentration levels will be at an all-time high.

Rucks The Kiwis often score without a single ruck forming. The42 The42

Ireland’s lineout remains their dominant source of possession leading to tries, accounting for 43% of the 44 tries Joe Schmidt’s side have scored in their last 13 Tests.

The Kiwis will be similarly interested in denying Ireland clean possession from that set-piece, with Retallick showing his quality in that area against England last weekend, while second row partner Sam Whitelock is clever in the lineout too.

The scrum battle, which Ireland dominated against Argentina, will be intriguing. Both teams are generally interested in playing off a clean platform on their own feed but we can expect Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy and co. to attack the Kiwis put-in, as Karl Tu’inukuafe and Owen Franks will do to them.

The return of Rob Kearney at fullback for Ireland provides aerial assurance after that element of their game dipped last weekend, while All Blacks fullback McKenzie – 5ft 9ins and around 85kg – should expect to be severely tested in the air after England had success putting the ball over him.

New Zealand’s ability to finish games strongly – they have scored the greatest share of their tries in the final quarter this year – means Ireland are likely to have to be leading heading into the closing stages of the contest.

Seeing how Schmidt sets his team up to attack the Kiwis will be riveting. Renowned for his intellect in creating set-piece attacks, the Ireland head coach is sure to have clever ideas reserved solely for this game. 

It will also be intriguing to note how Ireland look to take advantage of the Kiwis’ defensive system, which differs from most top Test teams in having scrum-half Aaron Smith sweep in behind rucks – rather than defending up in the line all the time.

Timing The All Blacks score heavily in the final quarter of games. The42 The42

Smith is tasked with organising his team-mates, managing how and when players fold from one side of the ruck to the other, while he also joins the defensive frontline if there is a clear numbers-down situation.

Teams like Argentina and Australia have had success attacking the space around the fringes of rucks against the Kiwis, while Conor Murray scored against the All Blacks through this zone in Chicago back in 2016.

Ireland’s attacking phase play is structured around out-half Johnny Sexton, with his decision-making processes even more important now that Murray is missing and Kieran Marmion is instead starting at scrum-half.

Sexton had an uncharacteristically poor performance against Argentina last time out, but it would be a surprise to see anything similar today.

While Ireland have insisted that they were giving Italy and Argentina their undivided attention earlier this month, it is obvious that players and coaches alike have been plotting ahead for today’s meeting with the best team in the world.

Among the details of their preparation will have been underlining referee Wayne Barnes’ traits with regards to penalties. Ireland have issues with how he has refereed them in the past – centred around a defeat to Wales in 2015 – but Schmidt’s players will be well prepared. Captain Rory Best will be keen to build a strong relationship with Barnes as Kiwi skipper Kieran Read attempts to do the same.

We know that the All Blacks will test Ireland’s defence with every single carry, pass and kick, but it will be truly fascinating to see how Schmidt has conceptualised his team beating New Zealand for a second time.

It is likely to require 80 minutes of Ireland’s very best collective performance levels, particularly on what is expected to be a dry evening at the Aviva Stadium.

Bundee Aki Bundee Aki will be fired up for an intense midfield battle. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

While the All Blacks are missing the hard-hitting excellence of Sam Cane, Sonny Bill Williams’ offloading and defensive nous, and the experience of Joe Moody in the front row, this is a stronger 23 than the one Ireland faced in Chicago two years ago.

Retallick, in particular, is a key man. The All Blacks have lost four times since the 2015 World Cup, with Retallick missing three of those games and the other involving a red card for Williams against the Lions.

After what they will have viewed as an underperformance against England last time out, the All Blacks will be excited to show what they’re capable of today.

A thriller awaits.


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 (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander


16. Sean Cronin
17. Jack McGrath
18. Andrew Porter
19. Iain Henderson
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Luke McGrath
22. Joey Carbery
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

8. Kieran Read (captain)
7. Ardie Savea
6. Liam Squire
5. Samuel Whitelock
4. Brodie Retallick
3. Owen Franks
2. Codie Taylor
1. Karl Tu’inukuafe


16. Dane Coles 
17. Ofa Tuungafasi 
18. Nepo Laulala 
19. Scott Barrett
20. Matt Todd 
21. TJ Perenara 
22. Richie Mo’unga
23. Anton Lienert-Brown

This article was updated at 9.52am to update Ireland’s starting team and bench to reflect Josh van der Flier being brought in for Dan Leavy.

Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here:

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel