New Zealand v Ireland: 4 facts you need to know
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It’s true, we have not seen Ireland at their best during this World Cup. The Irish mostly stuttered through the pool stages, famously losing to underdogs Japan last month.
Today could afford them an opportunity to prove their detractors wrong with a long-awaited, powerful showing against their nemesis, New Zealand.
But, as we shall see, history is not with them.
1 Oh, no, Owens
The Irish were apparently gritting their teeth when World Rugby announced Welshman Nigel Owens was officiating the Test between the two sides, if you are to believe stuff.co.nz.
It all stems from the All Blacks 2013 clash at Aviva Stadium, which they won 24-22 with a last gasp try in the 82nd minute. After that encounter, Owens was accused of some dubious calls that went the way of the visiting team.
And there might be more reasons for Irish concerns - Owens has to date the lowest average penalty count and longest ball-in-play-time at the Rugby World Cup, which many will argue suit the brinkmanship and running rugby of the New Zealanders.
Truth be told, Owens has been good to both Ireland and New Zealand. In the 14 Irish matches he has officiated since 2008, as reported by World Rugby, they have won nine of them. Likewise, the All Blacks have enjoyed 19 victories out of 22 Tests under the Welshman.
However, out of the three Test he as refereed between the two nations, the All Blacks have won all of them.
2 The long wait …
Ireland have nothing less than a shocking record against the All Blacks. Since their first meeting in 1905 - won 15-0 by New Zealand in Dublin - the two nations have played 31 Tests, Ireland winning two matches, losing 28 and drawing one.
It took 111 years for Ireland to finally taste victory against New Zealand. In November 2016 at Soldier Field in Chicago, they won 40-29 in dramatic fashion. The Irish had to wait another two years to drink the Guiness’ stocks dry in Ireland, when they beat the All Blacks 19-6 at Aviva Stadium in the End-of-year Tour.
Before that, the Irish came real close, really, really close in January 1973 when they played to the only draw between the two nations, a 10-10 draw in Dublin.
3 A cup of pain
Ireland have never answered the call when it comes to the World Cup.
Never have the Irish progressed further than the qurter-finals of the tournament. They bowed out in the first knockout round in 1987, 91, 95, 2003, 11 and 15.
In 1999 they escaped their pool, but failed to reach the quarter-finals as they were knocked out in a playoff, losing 28-24 to Argentina. In the remaining World Cups, they departed the tournament after the group stages.
4 Just for kicks
It might well be that the match will be settled by whichever team has the better accuracy when kicking at goal.
Both teams have excellent goal-kickers. Ireland’s Johnny Sexton has slotted over 8 of the 10 conversions handed to him this far this World Cup, while his counterpart Richie Mo’unga has a near unerring boot, converting two out of three penalties and a perfect 10 out of 10 conversions during the tournament.
Things will get a bit sketchy for the All Blacks if Mo’unga gets injured, however, as Beauden Barrett will no doubt step up to the tee and he has been known to miss crucial points at times. So far, he has only kicked once at goal during this World Cup, converting that chance.