All Blacks humble rudderless Ireland after Johnny Sexton goes off injured

·27 min read
new zealand v ireland live score 2022 tour first test  - AP
new zealand v ireland live score 2022 tour first test - AP
  • Ireland score first before conceding four tries in the last 20 minutes of  first half

  • Sexton goes off injured after 30 minutes, replaced by Carbery

  • Ireland fight back after the break, but fail to take chances

New Zealand overwhelmed Ireland with a ruthless attacking display that yielded six tries and represented a firm statement to open this three-match series: reports of an All Blacks demise may have been exaggerated.

Making light of their disjointed build-up and a sluggish start, which saw Keith Earls cross for Ireland, the hosts demonstrated the clinical counter-punching that has been a hallmark of their greatest teams. A three-try flurry on the verge of half-time was devastating. Ardie Savea scored twice and Jordie Barrett amassed 17 points, including a try of his own.

Accepted wisdom suggests that northern hemisphere nations need to strike early on these tours and Ireland, who lost captain Johnny Sexton to a suspected concussion on a chastening night, have a difficult fortnight to come.

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland leaves the field with an injury during the Steinlager Series match between the New Zealand and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. - GETTY IMAGES
Jonathan Sexton of Ireland leaves the field with an injury during the Steinlager Series match between the New Zealand and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. - GETTY IMAGES

They had beaten the All Blacks twice more since ending their 111-year drought in Chicago six years ago, in 2018 and again last November. A victory in New Zealand, moreover in Auckland at a venue that has not witnessed a home defeat for 28 years, was always going to be a sterner challenge.

“We started very well, got into our flow nicely,” said stand-in skipper Peter O’Mahony afterwards. “But we made a couple of mistakes and a couple of discipline errors, loose plays and dropped balls. A side of the quality of the All Blacks punish you on snap ball.”

Stained by three losses, New Zealand’s 2021 was underwhelming and their new campaign began in disruptive circumstances. Covid cost the hosts half of a backline and most of their coaching team. David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Will Jordan all missed out, while Joe Schmidt was whisked in to oversee matters.

Having held roles as World Rugby’s refereeing boss and with the Blues in Super Rugby since the 2019 World Cup, Schmidt was supposed to begin as the independent selector for the All Blacks later this year. As it happened, a head-to-head with Andy Farrell, his former Ireland lieutenant, added another delicious subplot. Ian Foster, the under-fire head coach, had at least cleared isolation to join the match-day operation after a week communicating with his squad via Zoom.

The tourists had hardly enjoyed a flawless build-up, either. Finlay Bealham was a late withdrawal due to Covid. Ed Byrne, joining the party as cover for Jeremy Loughman, did not arrive in time due to a delayed flight. That meant Tom O’Toole, the tighthead prop who had played 80 minutes against the Maori All Blacks on Wednesday, came on to the bench.

Any good front-row crisis capitalises on geography and Ireland have also integrated Michael Bent. Previously of Leinster, the 36-year-old is now back in his native New Zealand and has been representing Taranaki. Before kick-off, Farrell called for “courage” and for his charge to “be themselves”. The opening moments underlined how important that might be.

Beauden Barrett dinked a short kick-off and New Zealand fired into the breakdown when Tadhg Beirne eventually gathered. The All Blacks were more assured in the first kicking exchanges and sped through phases with Rieko Ioane threatening. But then an offside penalty produced field position for Ireland, who capitalised.

From a line-out, their forwards played short passes and punched holes. O’Mahony, Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan were particularly prominent and Ireland’s zig-zagging phase-play punctured the New Zealand 22. With penalty advantage, Sexton spread the ball wider and Hugo Keenan arced around to feed Earls with a diving offload. Earls finished powerfully.

Keith Earls of Ireland scores a try in the tackle of Jordie Barrett of New Zealand during the International test Match in the series between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park on July 02, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand.  - GETTY IMAGES
Keith Earls of Ireland scores a try in the tackle of Jordie Barrett of New Zealand during the International test Match in the series between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park on July 02, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. - GETTY IMAGES

Although Sexton skewed the conversion, Ireland had a fine start that Garry Ringrose consolidated by clobbering Sam Cane to force a turnover. O’Mahony, the nemesis of the All Blacks in 2018, then stole possession from a breakdown and aimed a deft grubber down the touchline.

New Zealand looked rattled and almost conceded a second try in the 15th minute. Sexton’s grubber gave Rinrgose space up the middle. Jamison Gibson-Park was in support but Beauden Barrett stepped in to snaffle a one-handed, death-or-glory interception.

From there, with a superior scrum as a foundation, the All Blacks steadied themselves. Beirne repelled one attack with a trademark jackal before New Zealand found space on their left. Leicester Fainga’anuku, a busy and explosive debutant, charged down the touchline and Aaron Smith fizzed in-field to Jordie Barrett. The hulking full-back carved over and converted.

On the half-hour, Ireland were rocked by a defining double-blow. On a slippery surface with a greasy ball, Ringrose fumbled and James Lowe slipped on the edge of New Zealand’s 22. Sevu Reece scooped up and sprinted 80 metres to the line. Worse was to come. As he fell during the preceding Ireland attack, Sexton had collided with Sam Cane and left the field. He did not return, and must be a doubt for the rest of the series given his history and World Rugby’s longer stand-down periods.

This was the cue for New Zealand to pile on the pain. When an Ireland maul malfunctioned, New Zealand’s forwards swarmed. Beauden Barrett snaked a kick through the line and Quinn Tupaea finished. Aaron Smith promptly scurried through non-existent fringe defence. The scrum-half chipped ahead with his left foot and, in the ensuing melee, seemed to deliberately flick the ball backwards. A chasing Savea dotted down. Three tries, 10 minutes: zero hope for Ireland. From optimism arose memories of their 60-0 thumping in Hamilton a decade previously.

New Zealands Ardie Savea dives in for a try during the rugby test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland on July 2, 2022. - GETTY IMAGES
New Zealands Ardie Savea dives in for a try during the rugby test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland on July 2, 2022. - GETTY IMAGES

Half-time was a haven and Ireland rediscovered fluency to begin the second period. More slick passing and strong carrying from Robbie Henshaw earned a penalty. Carbery kicked to the corner and, on the back of patience from the pack, Lowe’s spinning offload allowed Ringrose to squeeze in.

Carbery converted superbly, yet it would be consolation rather than comeback. Savea’s second underlined his standing as one of the planet’s premier back-rowers. Arcing into midfield, he brushed off Ringrose before selling a dummy to Lowe, outstripping Henshaw and cutting inside Earls. A 40-metre surge showcased stunning athleticism.

At 35-12, Farrell’s men were defiant but two try-saving tackles from Rieko Ioane, the first a contentiously high challenge on Carbery and the second on Josh van der Flier, stopped them closing the gap. In a fractured second half, Ireland’s woes were encapsulated by the plight of poor Dave Heffernan. The Connacht hooker replaced Sheehan but left again within three minutes for a head injury assessment. Pita Gus Sowakula, another All Blacks first-capper, landed his team’s sixth try by loping off the base of a close-range scrum.

Bundee Aki, a scorer against the Maori in midweek, bagged a second of this trip with three minutes to go. Ireland ended brightly, but the way that New Zealand filled those book-ends was ominous.

Cane praised his team for “rolling with the punches” before a “putting on performance” he described as “a good start”. Deliberate understatement or not, the All Blacks will be even better next weekend under the roof in Dunedin.

Match details

Scoring: 0-5 Earls try, 5-5 J Barrett try, 7-5 J Barrett conversion, 12-5 Reece try, 14-5 J Barrett conversion, 19-5 Tupaea try, 21-5 J Barrett conversion 26-5 Savea try, 28-5 J Barrett conversion, 28-10 Ringrose try, 28-12 Carbery conversion, 33-12 Savea try, 35-12 J Barrett conversion, 40-12 Sowakula try, 42-12 J Barrett conversion, 42-17 Aki try, 42-19

New Zealand: J Barrett; S Reece, R Ioane (B Ennor, 67), Q Tupaea (R Mo’unga, 60), L Fainga’anuku; B Barrett, A Smith (F Christie, 60); G Bower (K Tu’inukuafe, 60), C Taylor (S Taukei’aho, 55), O Tu’ungafasi (A Ta’avao, 55), B Retallick (PG Sowakula, 63), S Whitelock, S Barrett, S Cane (D Papalii, 67), A Savea

Ireland: H Keenan; K Earls (Aki, 56), G Ringrose, R Henshaw,J Lowe; J Sexton (J Carbery, 31), J Gibson-Park (C Murray, 73); A Porter, D Sheehan (D Heffernan, 63-66), T Furlong (T O’Toole, 67), T Beirne (K Treadwell, 65), J Ryan, P O’Mahony, J Van der Flier, C Doris (J Conan, 56)

Replacements not used: C Healy

Referee: Mr K Dickson (RFU)

Yellow card: Tu’inukuafe, 79

New Zealand beat Ireland, as it happened:

10:53 AM

That's all from me...

But read Charlie Morgan's report for a full recap of New Zealand's win.

10:25 AM

Elsewhere...

France have beaten Japan 42-23. It was 13-13 at half-time but the tourists pulled away after the break.

10:17 AM

Scott Barrett got away with this tackle - probably should have been red

10:14 AM

The rest of this tour could get messy

Ireland had a great chance to catch a Covid-disrupted New Zealand team cold today... and they were well beaten.

The All Blacks will be better next week. Ireland will need to be so much better.

10:12 AM

Eden Park remains a fortress

The All Blacks are now unbeaten in 47 consecutive tests at Eden Park.

10:07 AM

New Zealand were clinical, Ireland were not

Ireland crossed the New Zealand line six times in the second half, scoring once. New Zealand had just seven rucks in the Irish 22 and scored six tries.

10:03 AM

FT: NZL 42 IRE 19

Ireland are over the line but they are held up... again! Conan was so close. Back for a penalty. Into the corner we go.

Ireland go through the phases and the ball is held. That is the third time! Back to the corner again.

Ireland form a maul but it is well defended. That is that!

09:58 AM

80 mins: NZL 42 IRE 19

Sheehan carries powerfully off the line-out, stepping past Savea. Conan releases Henshaw with an offload. The clock goes red as Ireland edge into the New Zealand 22. Keenan is hammered back but Ireland get the penalty. Back to the corner.

09:57 AM

79 mins: NZL 42 IRE 19

Ireland run from deep, determined to get some momentum for the rest of the series. They get advantage. Tuinukuafe is yellow carded with too many team offences. Ireland kick to touch.

09:56 AM

TRY! Aki! NZL 42 IRE 19

Ireland come again, Conan breaking throug after a nice tip on from Treadwell. Aki then makes a break. Ireland are just metres out again and Aki gets the ball down!

09:54 AM

76 mins: NZL 42 IRE 12

Ireland's pack tries to fight their way over from close range. Penalty awarded. Ireland go quick and another penalty is awarded. New Zealand get a warning from Karl Dickson.

Tap-and-go from Sheehan, Ireland then get over the line but it is held up! Oh no. Four times over the line this half and only one score!

09:52 AM

74 mins: NZL 42 IRE 12

New Zealand run from deep and draw a penalty at the breakdown. Touch is missed and Ireland kick it back. Jordie Barrett finds a decent touch.

Ireland make plenty of metres off the line-out as Henshaw fends and breaks. Penalty to Ireland. They kick to the corner.

09:48 AM

TRY! Sowakula! NZL 42 IRE 12

Sowakula picks from the base on the Test debut and crashes over with ease! Too easy!

This is getting ugly.

09:47 AM

70 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

New Zealand win a scrum penalty. Porter is penalised again! Another scrum is coming.

09:45 AM

68 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

New Zealand kick to the corner. They retain line-out ball, Ireland stray offside before Aki pinches the ball. The All Blacks opt to scrum from five metres out. Lovely position to attack both sides.

09:44 AM

66 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

They clear long and Ireland return with a kick of their own. Lowe then claims a high ball under pressure. Treadwell, fresh onto the pitch, carries nicely. The ball is pinched but Henshaw flies out of the line to stop the attack going anywhere. A breakdown penalty to the hosts follows.

Ireland do something good then immediately follow it up with a mistake.

09:40 AM

64 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

Another line-out goes badly for Ireland. Sheehan is off. He has been very good in the loose, not so much at set-piece.

Reece carries off the back of the scrum but then the ball is lost forward. Ireland looks to capitalise but Faingaanuku intercepts the pass. Aki looks to do the same, but knocks the ball forward. Knock on only. Scrum to the All Blacks on the edge of their own 22.

09:36 AM

62 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

New half-backs for the hosts. Christie and Mo'unga on. The All Blacks butcher their clearance. Line-out to Ireland on the edge of the 22... but they lose it. So frustrating for the tourists.

New Zealand clear.

09:34 AM

60 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

Ireland tap-and-go. They are inches out and Van der Flier crashes over! But he has dropped it! Wow. Ireland should have score twice in the last minute. Scrum New Zealand.

09:31 AM

58 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

Aki is on for Ireland, replacing Earls. Conan also on. Ireland maul, slowly making metres. Aki then carries up the middle before Henshaw does the same. The forwards work through the phases but the defence is strong.

A strong carry takes Ireland to five metres out. The ball comes out, Carbery darts around the outside, he is tackled high by Ioane but still gets the ball down. Or does he spill it? It is close. The TMO is having a look.

No try, he lost it! But the tackle from Ioane is high! So, penalty try? Carbery would score if the high tackle does not come in. It is just a penalty! Interesting call from Karl Dickson.

09:25 AM

57 mins: NZL 35 IRE 12

A new front row for the hosts is on (Taukeiaho, Tuinukuafe and Ta'avao). Smith clears from the restart, Ireland run it back as Carbery releases Earl with a nice miss pass. The ball is stolen, New Zealand counter but Doris pinches the ball at the ruck. Ireland go wide but Reece knocks it down. Penalty to Ireland!

Carbery kicks to the corner.

09:23 AM

TRY! Savea! NZL 35 IRE 12

Faingaanuku crashes up the middle off the line-out. The ball comes to Savea who shrugs off two defenders before rounding the full-back to score from 30 metres out. Amazing try from the No 8!

Jordie Barrett converts.

Game over!

09:22 AM

54 mins: NZL 28 IRE 12

Doris then steals the line-out, but the ball runs out into touch for another New Zealand line-out.

09:21 AM

52 mins: NZL 28 IRE 12

New Zealand win a penalty with Porter pinged for going to ground. The hosts opt to scrum once more. New Zealand push early! Free kick to Ireland! They get away with one there.

Carbery clears to touch.

09:20 AM

50 mins: NZL 28 IRE 12

New Zealand win their ball and break over the gain-line. Sheehan is penalised in front of the sticks. Ryan is down.

The All Blacks choose to scrum, 10 metres out. Alpha move with a very easy three available. Plenty of space to attack each side. Ireland give away a free kick for going early. Scrum again.

09:16 AM

48 mins: NZL 28 IRE 12

Lowe takes the restart under pressure and then another penalty is given to Ireland. Discipline has been poor by the All Blacks this half. Ireland kick into New Zealand territory.

Ireland cannot retain possession from the line-out. They cannot afford mistakes like that! Ireland's defence is initially strong before Ioane drives his way over the gain-line. Smith then releases Faingaanuku with a cheeky ball out the back door. O'Mahony is penalised for going for the ball at the ruck after it was formed.

Beauden Barrett kicks to the corner. They want to kill the game.

09:13 AM

TRY! Ringrose! NZL 28 IRE 12

Ireland form a maul before Sheehan breaks off the back. Carbery then has a dart and Bower is penalised for not rolling away. Another kick to the corner. Ireland must score here.

Here comes the maul, it is defended well, forcing Ireland to play away. Van der Flier is stopped just short but Ireland go wide and Ringrose somehow gets the ball down! What a finish!

Carbery slots the conversion from the touchline. Game on?

09:10 AM

42 mins: NZL 28 IRE 5

Ireland start brighthly, working their way into New Zealand territory. Ringrose, Lowe and Henshaw link up nicely, breaking the line and drawing an offside penalty. They stick it in the corner.

09:08 AM

The second half is under way!

More tries for New Zealand or remarkable comeback?

Sexton has failed HIA.

09:00 AM

Andy Farrell will not be pleased... big half-time team talk needed

08:58 AM

What a kick in behind!

08:57 AM

Ireland were on top...

But that did not last. New Zealand are just so clinical and they now have built themselves into a very, very strong position. Ireland's discipline faltered towards the end of the half as they were put on the back foot. Sexton has not returned from his HIA as of yet.

Hard to envisage an Ireland comeback.

08:53 AM

HT: NZL 28 IRE 5

A brutal 20 minutes for the Irish. Four tries conceded and their captain off for a HIA. Porter gives away a penalty, New Zealand end the half by tapping it before booting into touch.

08:52 AM

TRY! Savea! NZL 28 IRE 5

Ireland give away a penalty following the restart. They kick into Irish territory. Following the line-out, New Zealand spread the ball wide left, slowly making metres. Smith darts from the base, breaking clean through. He chips over the top but cannot regather by the try-line. It looks like Smith knocks it back and then Savea reacts quickest to touch it down.

TMO is having a look... another try! Smith did knock it back, allowing Savea to score. That was a little fortunate for the hosts. Jordie Barrett adds the extras.

08:47 AM

TRY! Tupaea! NZL 21 IRE 5

Ireland lose the ball in their own 22 following a strong New Zealand counter-ruck. A grubber is stuck in behind by Beauden Barrett and Tupaea collects unopposed to score! What a kick! Ireland in trouble.

08:44 AM

34 mins: NZL 14 IRE 5

Bad to worse for Ireland... Sexton is off! Carbery on.

New Zealand send the ball high, Reece taps it back and Savea claims it. Ireland win a penalty at the breakdown and Gibson-Park goes quickly, releasing Ringrose out wide. Ireland get up to the New Zealand 22 before spilling the ball.

The All Blacks counter, a grubber in behind is kicked long by Keenan. Chaos out there as kicks hit the turf and misbheave. New Zealand win the ball back from a kick, Jordie Barrett then grubbers in behind.

08:40 AM

TRY! Reece! NZL 14 IRE 5

Oh dear, oh dear. A pass from Ringrose to Lowe goes to ground and Reece scoops it up, sprinting 80-odd metres to dot down under the posts! No catching him. Gutting for Ireland!

08:39 AM

30 mins: NZL 7 IRE 5

Ireland steal the ball from the line-out and Van der Flier drives them forward. They go wide but Earls cannot beat Jordie Barrett one-on-one. The forwards then carry hard, taking Ireland to 15 metres out.

08:37 AM

28 mins: NZL 7 IRE 5

New Zealand win their line-out, Smith slips as he box-kicks allowing Lowe to run it back. The tourists go through the phases before Sexton launches a bomb into the sky. Earls taps it back but it goes to ground, leaving Ireland back with the ball where they were.

Ringrose almost darts through but Retallick makes a superb covering tackle. They then get shunted into touch.

08:36 AM

25 mins: NZL 7 IRE 5

Ireland have been the better side, but they trail. Classic All Blacks. They make their chances count.

Sexton takes the restart short and New Zealand knock it on. Good opportunity to attack here.

The scrum goes to ground. Reset. New Zealand look to have a tad more power, which is saying something with Porter and Furlong in the Irish front row. Ireland form one of their trademark wrap around plays following the scrum but the following pass out to Lowe is spilled by the wing.

08:32 AM

TRY! Jordie Barrett! NZL 7 IRE 5

The All Blacks go wide right of the scrum, making easy metres. They switch to attack the left and Faingaanuku is stopped just short of the line. Jordie Barrett then hits a superb hard line, crashing over from close range! Clinical.

Jordie then adds the extras. New Zealand lead.

08:29 AM

18 mins: NZL 0 IRE 5

Ireland cannot claim their line-out. Scrum to New Zealand.

Ireland get a nudge on but Smith gets the ball away. A box-kick follows, Keenan takes and runs it back. Van der Flier makes hard yards before Sexton chips over the top, he is finding lots of space, but the bounce evades him.

The hosts run it back, working their way into Irish territory. A knock-on ends the attack.

08:25 AM

16 mins: NZL 0 IRE 5

Ryan steals the line-out, Sexton grubbers in behind and it is perfectly weighted for Ringrose. He gathers and tries to put Gibson-Park away under the sticks but Beauden Barrett reads it well, making a crucial interception and running it back.

A frantic phase of play ends with New Zealand clearing to touch after another clever kick in behind by the Irish. Van der Flier is everywhere at the moment, tackling Barrett's for fun.

08:23 AM

14 mins: NZL 0 IRE 5

The first scrum is reset, Ireland are then driving back on the second! Penalty to New Zealand! Porter is penalised. Big moment for the Kiwi pack.

They clear to touch.

08:22 AM

Here is Ireland's opening score

08:21 AM

12 mins: NZL 0 IRE 5

New Zealand regather a kick following the line-out. Tupaea offloads to Cane who is absolutely nailed by Ringrose! The All Blacks captain knocks the ball on and then stays down! Great shot from the Ireland centre.

Another solid Irish scrum allows Gibson-Park to kick. Jordie Barrett runs it back  but O'Mahony pinches it! A grubber in behind follows, Tupaea gets back well to take it into touch.

Ireland win a free kick at the line-out just on the edge of the New Zealand 22. They opt to scrum.

08:17 AM

9 mins: NZL 0 IRE 5

Ireland clear the restart via Sexton. Reece runs it back. The All Blacks send the ball high into the sky but Sexton claims well, returning the favour. The kicking exchange ends with a good touch by Lowe.

08:15 AM

TRY! Earls! NZL 0 IRE 5

Ireland stay patient. With penalty advantage, the ball comes out the back and Earls darts back inside to fight his way over the line. It was a lovely pass from Keenan to free the Munster winger.

Sexton misses the conversion.

A word for Sheehan who made four strong carries in the build-up!

08:14 AM

5 mins: NZL 0 IRE 0

Ireland maul before Sheehan sneaks down the blindside. He is hauled down. Ireland go through the phases, slowly making ground before Sheehan busts a tackle, taking them to five metres out.

Henshaw looks likely to score before an amazing tackle from Scott Barrett halts him.

08:12 AM

4 mins: NZL 0 IRE 0

Tu'ungafasi is down for a little while, he looks fine to continue. Ireland win their ball, Doris carries from the back of the maul before it is cleared long. Reece runs it back but then bumps into Retallick. Penalty to Ireland for offside!

Sexton nudges the ball down towards the New Zealand 22.

08:09 AM

2 mins: NZL 0 IRE 0

Beauden Barrett, one of three brothers starting tonight, executes the restart nicely but it is then knocked on. Scrum Ireland just outside their 22.

A solid platform allows Gibson-Park to clear long. Kick-tennis ensues, Keenan makes a mess of a kick which forces Seexton to scramle the ball away under pressure. Do not kick loosely to the All Blacks! The ball is run back, Ioane carrying the ball up to the Irish 22. Jordie Barrett then sticks a grubber through which runs out for an Irish line-out.

08:07 AM

Here we go!

Beauden Barret dinks the restart short.

08:00 AM

Here come the national anthems

The Haka will then, of course, follow.

07:59 AM

And now the All Blacks

Sam Cane leads out his under pressure New Zealand team.

07:58 AM

Here come Ireland!

Sexton leads his side out into a packed Eden Park.

07:53 AM

Rieko Ioane is one threat Ireland must nullify

07:48 AM

Elsewhere in international rugby...

Italy beat Romania 45-13 last night, Fiji defeated Tonga 36-0 this morning while Japan-France is currently 13-13 with 30 minutes gone.

07:44 AM

Ian Foster is back

The head coach has recovered from Covid to be with the team today.

07:42 AM

Here is a reminder of the All Blacks team...

Including the best name in rugby, Leicester Ofa Ki Wales Twickenham Fainga'anuku, making his debut.

Fainga’anuku's father, Malakai, a former Tongan international, played at the 1999 World Cup and helped Tonga to victory over Italy in Leicester during the pool stage, prompting him to name his second son after the city they won in when he was born the next day.

The prop then added Wales and Twickenham to his son's middle names. Wales, because it was the main host nation of the 1999 World Cup, and Twickenham, because Tonga played England there just a few days later.

07:38 AM

There has been a change to the Ireland team!

Replacement prop Finlay Bealham is out with Covid, Tom O'Toole, who faced the Maori on Wednesday, comes in.

07:08 AM

Opportunity awaits for Ireland

Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand. They will never get a better opportunity to end that record than today.

The All Blacks camp has been struck by Covid leaving coaches, including top dog Ian Foster, and players out of action. Rarely does one look at a New Zealand team sheet and find it underwhelming. The team they picked to take on Ireland might be just that.

David Havili and Jack Goodhue could well have been New Zealand's starting centre pairing had Covid not struck. Will Jordan, another likely starter in the backline, has also been ruled out for the same reason.

There is quality throughout the side, but it is not the borderline World XV the All Blacks once boasted.

Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has been drafted in to help New Zealand prepare for his former side. Schmidt has been working with the Blues and will become an All Blacks selector after this series. He undoubtedly will have given unique insight to the New Zealand camp but it seems unlikely that will make up for a week of disruption.

The Ireland camp were not immune to Covid, however, with Connacht wing Mack Hansen ruled out of the series opener. Iain Henderson is also unavailable with an injury that has ruled him out of the tour. But Ireland should still be confident.

They defeated the All Blacks in the autumn and this is not a vintage New Zealand side. They lost three games out of 15 in 2021 which, by their high standards, was a near-disaster.

Ireland captain and fly-half Johnny Sexton has called on his side to maintain their upward trajectory following an unconvincing start to Andy Farrell's reign as head coach.

"We were written off left, right and centre and we've come back and we've showed some great stuff," he told Sky Sports ahead of Saturday's first Test in Auckland.

"We've had some great results to go with it because we were always saying, 'it's coming, it's coming' and I think people were looking at us going, 'is it really?'.

"And now we've got to keep it going. "We've got to keep improving because that's the mistake we made in the last cycle for the World Cup; we probably peaked in 2018 and we didn't continue to evolve and that's what we're keen to not let happen."