Ireland players celebrate with the Six Nations trophy 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Ireland players celebrate with the Six Nations trophy 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
The All Blacks perform the Haka before the Rugby Championship match against South Africa. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA
The All Blacks perform the Haka before the Rugby Championship match against South Africa. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

DUBLIN – Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland play world champions New Zealand in a clash of the two top-ranked teams in rugby at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

Here, AFP Sport picks out three potentially pivotal areas where the match could be won and lost.

Back to his Best?

Nobody can fault Rory Best on his service to Ireland with 112 Tests behind him.

However, at 36, questions are being posed about how much longer he can go on at Test level, even with the World Cup less than a year away.

It is not so much his captaincy - which is seen as impeccable and a calming influence when things become hectic - but his play as a hooker and, in particular, his throws at the lineouts.

A few went astray last Saturday against Argentina, although that could be put down to rustiness as the team had not played together for a while.

Lock Iain Henderson, who was responsible for calling the lineouts, has paid the price. But the eagerness with which the New Zealand pack picked off England hooker Jamie George's line-outs in the second half of their match last Saturday means Best will have to be on target.

"He's a world-class hooker. You know when you go through one of those little games there's a bit extra focus for the week to get it right," said All Blacks Word Cup-winning hooker Dane Coles on Monday.

Ireland's Rory Best during the press conference. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Ireland's Rory Best during the press conference. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Marmion's big chance  

Kieran Marmion showed up well and scored a try against Argentina as starting scrum-half in place of absent talisman Conor Murray.

New Zealand present a totally different challenge and give the 26-year-old a great chance to show that he can be the go-to man.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt says it presents a terrific opportunity for the Connacht player - who gets the nod ahead of Sexton's Leinster half-back partner Luke McGrath.

Marmion acknowledges he has to seize the moment and is frank about comparisons between him and Murray.

"He's (Murray) got a lot of skills that are a lot better than mine, and I've got the odd skill that might be a bit better than his," he said on Thursday. "But I guess it isn't about playing like him, I've got into camp by playing how I play so I'm just going to be myself out there as much as I can."

 Ireland's Kieran Marmion in action against England. Photo: Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic
Ireland's Kieran Marmion in action against England. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic

All Blacks to prove Ledesma right?

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma said the All Blacks never put together successive bad performances.

Regardless of the result, many would say their display against England didn't measure up to their high standards.

Ireland, despite their ranking of two in the world, could be in for a rough day at the office. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, though, says the greatness of his side is that they find that bit extra when other teams raise their game as they invariably do against the world champions.

"You've got to be confident when you've been as successful as this team (New Zealand) has," said Hansen on Thursday.

"You've got to keep your self-belief and they're good at finding a way when things aren't going the way they want them to go. What most people don't understand is that every team we play has the game of their lives, because we're the team they want to beat."

Agence France-Presse (AFP)