Saturday, 23 June 2012
Third Test: New Zealand v Ireland, 08:35 (GMT)
The Irish will run on to the field this weekend with an increased level of expectation after pushing the world champs right to the edge last weekend in Christchurch with some fantastic test match rugby.
Adding to the intensity is the six changes that All Black's coach Steve Hansen has rung in for the final of the international test series. Some due to injuries while others such as Ben Smith and Hosea Gear are strategic.
The most notable injury omission from this weekend's match is Dan Carter, with a strained hamstring. The Irish may view this as good fortune, however replacement first five-eighth Aaron Cruden has been the most consistent and best performing pivot in New Zealand throughout the Super Rugby competition.
Where the Irish may have an opportunity to dominate is in the scrum, where the normally staunch All Blacks looked listless late in the game. Added to this is the debut of tighthead lock Luke Romano from the Canterbury Crusaders, who pushes the well performed Brody Retallick to the bench.
There is also a new look loose forward trio that sees captain Richie McCaw move to the back of the scrum while youngster Sam Cane takes over at openside for his first start in a test. Liam Messam, who only came into the squad this week after head knocks prevented Keiran Read from playing again in this series, will start at blindside, while Adam Thompson sits on the bench.
With so many changes in the forwards Ireland will look to continue where they left off last weekend and win the battle up front.
Earlier this week Steve Hansen made comments to the effect that Ireland had played their best rugby in the second test. Brian O'Driscoll and his team will be using that as motivation for last game, and should come out firing.
Despite the big scoreline in the first test, the men from the Emerald isle managed to shut down the mid-field threat of Sonny-Bill Williams, then again in the second test, while also containing the threat of Israel Dagg, Guidlford and Savea.
The third and final match of the series should again be a thriller. Ireland will be desperate for their first win over the All Blacks, which would be all the more important should they manage it on NZ soil.
But the All Blacks, and new coaching staff will have learnt some valuable lessons after the last weekends scare. Gone will be any relaxed attitudes, and lack of focus. The debutantes will be all the more clear about what the All Black legacy means, and be keen to repay the faith shown in them by the coaches and selectors. With the Rugby Championship coming up, these are important opportunities to impress and prove their worth for the future.
Expect an even better showing by the Irish, but an even bigger effort from the New Zealanders.