Ireland will face New Zealand, this Saturday November fifth. The match actually takes place in Chicago, Illinois, USA, at Soldier Field Stadium.
The match starts at 3pm local time, which is 8pm Irish time, and around 9am, Sunday sixth, in New Zealand.
It’s only the second time that this fixture has been played in a neutral venue. The last was in South Africa during the pool stages of the 1995 World Cup.
It will be a very tough game for Ireland. The All Blacks are on a absolute roll at the moment, having won their last 18 consecutive Tests, a record for a top tier nation! Included in those victories are winning the Rugby World Cup and the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand won the 2015 World Cup, becoming the first team to successfully defend the Cup, having won it in 2011. They went through the tournament undefeated, along the way inflicting a 62-13 drubbing against France. It was the biggest defeat suffered during the knock-out stages of the World cup.
New Zealand also went through the Rugby Championship undefeated, achieving home-and-away victories against South Africa, Australia and Argentina.
In all each match, New Zealand scored at least four tries. They also beat South Africa, 57-13. This was the largest score achieved in tests between the two countries and also the biggest defeat ever conceded by South Africa.
Since the World Cup, New Zealand have had to deal with the loss of two icons, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. The loss of such legendary players would affect any team but the All Blacks seem to be coping just fine.
Ireland have picked the strongest team available to them, barring injury concerns. The three main players left out are Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Tommy Bowe. The three are in action for their respective provinces this weekend in the Guinness Pro12 tournament.
Rob Kearney returns at full back, with Zebo and Trimble on the wings. A perfect mixture of pace and power. Payne, who played very well against South Africa on the recent tour, as full back, partners Henshaw in the centre.
Sexton returns from injury at fly-half, with Murray at No.9. Sexton will have a very tough time against New Zealand golden boy, Beauden Barrett.
Best captains at hooker, with McGrath and Furlong outside him. Ryan and Toner forge a formidable second row pairing, with Stander, Murphy and Heaslip powering up behind them in the back row.
The bench contains a few new faces, with Leinster’s Carbery and Ringrose looking for their first cap. Carbery takes Paddy Jackson’s place on the bench. Jackson is currently under investigation by Northern Ireland police for allegdged sex offences, offences which Jackson has ‘rejected completely’.
It’s quite an elevation for Carbery. The young out-half (who this week celebrated his 21st birthday), was actually born in New Zealand, was playing for amateur club Clontarf only a season ago, and has played less than ten games for Leinster. It will be quite a baptism of fire.
Ireland have faced New Zealand 28 times, since the first game in 1905. Of the 28 Test, Ireland have lost 27, with one draw, coming in 1973. 111 years without a victory. A good omen for an Irish win may be that the Chicago Cubs baseball team finally won the World Series, after a wait of 108 years!
Ireland actually came very close to beating the All Blacks in the last Test between the two countries, in 2013, in Dublin. Ireland were beating New Zealand for the full 80 minutes but the All Blacks managed to score the winning try in injury time, breaking Irish hearts.
The venue is a neutral one but it looks like the majority of support will be for Ireland, given the large Irish connection with America. The two countries will have a return game, in Dublin on November 19th.
There is an added incentive for the Irish players to beat the All Blacks, as the British and Irish Lions are due to tour New Zealand at the end of this season, in 2017. A win against the All Blacks would do their selection chances a wold of good.
Most betting odds give Ireland a 10-1 chance of beating New Zealand. Dan Carter recently commented that an Ireland victory would be a ‘miracle’! Ireland will hope that the New Zealand players will be fatigued after coming to the end of their season.
It would be great to see an Ireland win, finally, but the portents don’t look good.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Jack McGrath
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Garry Ringrose