Ireland to face favourites New Zealand in Rugby World Cup quarter-finals
Joe Schmidt’s side will take on the number one team in the world in Tokyo next Saturday.

JOE SCHMIDT’S IRELAND will face World Cup favourites New Zealand in their quarter-final at Tokyo Stadium next Saturday 19 October [KO 11.15am Irish time, eir Sport/RTÉ].

Japan’s scintillating 28-21 win over Scotland today confirmed that Ireland finish as runners-up in Pool A, meaning they meet Steve Hansen’s men after the Kiwis were Pool B winners.

Saturday, which will begin with England’s clash with Australia (kick-off 08.15), will then see the fourth meeting between Ireland and the All Blacks in the last four years.  Schmidt’s men have won two of the last three clashes.

Sunday’s quarter-finals will see Wales take on France (kick-off 08.15) before Japan face Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks hoping for a repeat of their momentous win in Brighton four years ago (kick-off 11.15).

jacob-stockdale-scores-a-try-despite-damian-mckenzie-and-aaron-smith Tommy Dickson / INPHO Ireland have had some good days against the Kiwis in recent years. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland recorded their first-ever win over the Kiwis in 2016 in Chicago, before New Zealand recovered to beat them in Dublin a fortnight later.

However, Schmidt’s side repeated their winning feat on home soil last November, a stunning Jacob Stockdale try helping them to a memorable 16-9 success. 

The All Blacks will naturally go into next weekend’s quarter-final as the favourites to advance into a semi-final against the winner of the England v Australia clash, but Ireland can take a degree of confidence from knowing they have beaten the All Blacks so recently.

“I suppose you can draw a bit of confidence from that but rugby evolves and it evolves quickly,” said Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong.

“It’s a year since we last played New Zealand and the game moves on, stuff changes, systems change. It gives us confidence that we have got results in the past but at the same time, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

The Ireland tighthead was part of the Lions squad that drew a Test series with the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2017, when they won the second Test in Wellington.

It means that Furlong, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony have been part of both Ireland and Lions squads that have had success against the Kiwis.

“It’s just hard work, really,” said Furlong when asked to identify the common theme on those successful days.

“They’re so dangerous, aren’t they? You can’t switch off. Just working really hard, staying switched on mentally because they can make something out of nothing with some of the players they have.

steve-hansen Photosport / John Cowpland/INPHO Steve Hansen's men are going for third title in a row. Photosport / John Cowpland/INPHO / John Cowpland/INPHO

“I suppose there’s an element of just being physical, isn’t there? It’s the same in any rugby game you play but as a front five forward, it’s all about being as physical as you can and hopefully coming out on top.”

Ireland will have some belief in their ability to limit New Zealand’s chances in the ‘transitions’ from defence to attack where they frequently thrive, scoring stunning tries in the blink of an eye.

At their best, Ireland deliver very low error counts and that has been key in both their wins over the Kiwis. The Irish defence was sublime in Dublin last November and will need to be excellent again on Saturday if they are to keep the lethal Kiwi attack quiet.

Hansen has been using Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett as a 10-15 playmaking combination this year, while the Kiwis have relatively new stars out wide in Crusaders wing pair George Bridge and Sevu Reece – who almost joined Connacht last year.

While Ireland hammered Samoa yesterday, the All Blacks had the weekend off due to their final Pool B fixture against Italy being cancelled as Typhoon Hagibis hit the Japanese mainland. 

Hansen might have liked to get more minutes into key man Brodie Retallick’s legs and lungs, the lock having only played 30 minutes in this World Cup after recovering from a shoulder injury, but the All Blacks will have had a 13-day build-up to face Ireland.

“That’s the old GAA argument coming up to the All-Ireland final, isn’t it?” said Ireland’s Niall Scannell when asked which team has the advantage in that sense.

“Sometimes you want a game, sometimes you don’t. It all depends on who wins at the end of the day. I’ll be able to tell you after next weekend!”

cj-stander-celebrates-after-the-game Jayne Russell / INPHO Ireland are coming into this game on the back of a big win over Samoa. Jayne Russell / INPHO / INPHO

Perhaps it’s of benefit to Schmidt’s side that they won’t come into next weekend’s quarter-final as favourites, with most people expecting the All Blacks to prove too strong in this first knock-out round.

The underdog edge could suit Ireland as they prepare in the coming days. They seem likely to lose centre Bundee Aki to suspension at his disciplinary hearing in Tokyo tomorrow but Schmidt’s squad generally appears to be in very good health.

Ireland will fly up to Tokyo from Fukuoka on Monday afternoon in Japan, with history beckoning at the end of the week.

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