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Can Andy Farrell's new faces match the All Blacks? Talking points ahead of Ireland-New Zealand

The Aviva Stadium hosts a highly-anticipated Test on Saturday afternoon.

IT’S ALL EYES on the Aviva Stadium this weekend as Ireland face their biggest challenge yet under Andy Farrell as New Zealand come to Dublin for the first time since 2018.

Much has changed for Ireland since these teams last met – not least the head coach – and with that in mind it makes for a fascinating encounter.

Here, Ciaran Kennedy looks at some of the key talking points ahead of what promises to be a memorable occasion in front of a sold-out home crowd, with the latest prices from William Hill… 

Attacking intent v defensive solidity

all-blacks-beauden-barrett-with-irelands-conor-murray-and-josh-van-der-flier Beauden Barrett and Josh van der Flier when the teams last met in 2019. Source: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ireland’s nine-try defeat of Japan showcased all the qualities supporters have wanted to see from Andy Farrell’s team. The home side started with real purpose, attacking with intent and showcasing an impressive desire to keep the ball alive, throwing a total of 17 offloads.

The big question is, can that attacking intent be replicated from the start against New Zealand, a team who can be so ruthless when it comes to capitalising on errors by the opposition?

That’s the goal anyway,” claimed Josh van der Flier, but the flanker also highlighted that defence is more likely to decide Saturday’s showdown at the Aviva.

It will be interesting to see how Farrell tries to strike the right balance in that regard. He will want his team to start with purpose and try to stamp their authority on the game, but he’ll also be wary of keeping things tight against this New Zealand team. They may not be the force of old, but they put 46 points on Ireland when the teams last met at the 2019 World Cup.

William Hill odds: Ireland to score first team try – 7/4

A fresh challenge for Farrell’s new faces

johnny-sexton-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-on-his-100th-cap-for-ireland-with-ronan-kelleher-jack-conan-and-hugo-keenan Ronan Kelleher, Jack Conan and Hugo Keenan celebrate a Johnny Sexton try during the win over Japan. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

With no trophies on the line, the autumn international window often provides a chance to experiment and try out some new combinations. Farrell will of course go full strength with his team selection this weekend, but the fixture itself will represent a key marker in terms of judging this team’s progress under the head coach.

Farrell has been quick to cap new players since succeeding Joe Schmidt in the job, but he’s done it under the cloud of the Covid pandemic, with opportunities to play teams beyond Europe non-existent. For the likes of Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris, Ronan Kelleher, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, this fixture will represent their first chance to play against southern hemisphere opposition at Test level – the same goes for more experienced players Jack Conan and Andrew Conway.

When it comes to playing top level international rugby, it doesn’t get any bigger than taking on New Zealand. Saturday will give us the clearest indication yet of where these players are in terms of their international development. Ireland may be at a developmental stage under Farrell, but delivering a competitive performance against the All Blacks would be the strongest indication yet that they are on the right path.

William Hill odds: Ireland to lead at half-time – 9/4

All Blacks out to lay down a marker

tokyo-japan-1st-nov-2019-brodie-retallick-nzl-rugby-2019-rugby-world-cup-3rd-place-match-between-new-zealand-40-17-wales-at-tokyo-stadium-in-tokyo-japan-credit-naoki-moritaaflo-sportalam Brodie Retallick is back for New Zealand. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Farrell is well aware of the challenge coming his team’s way on Saturday. While Ireland impressed against Japan, for many of his players that was their first Test game since the Six Nations. This weekend represents a serious step-up against a New Zealand team that have played nine Test games since September.

New Zealand will be coming to Dublin determined to lay down a marker as they approach the end of a gruelling run of games. They ran out 47-9 winners against Italy last weekend, but what that scoreline doesn’t tell is the number of uncharacteristic errors and general sloppiness that crept into the All Blacks’ performance – a side-effect of the taxing nature of their long tour away from home, perhaps.

You can be sure that they’ve been hard on themselves this week as they look to deliver a more complete and clinical showing in Dublin this Saturday – this is a fixture where New Zealand have always been keen to underline their authority.

They’ve also been boosted by the return of Brodie Retallick, the destructive second row passed fit after injuring his shoulder against Wales two weeks ago. The All Blacks looked a shadow of themselves in Rome, but they rarely let standards slip two weeks running.

William Hill odds: New Zealand to win by 6-10 points – 5/1

 William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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