All Blacks coach Steve Hansen recalls stars as ‘underdogs’ face Ireland rematch
New Zealand are out to avenge 40-29 defeat in Chicago earlier this month which ended their world-record 18-match win streak
New Zealand will go into their Ireland rematch as “underdogs” on Saturday, claimed coach Steve Hansen, despite recalling the world champion’s big names as they seek to avenge their historic loss.
Only four players remain in the starting side named on Thursday for the eagerly anticipated Dublin clash from the youthful line-up that demolished Italy 68-10 last week as Hansen looks to restore pride following a 40-29 defeat in Chicago on November 5.
The backline of that losing team has been revamped, with Israel Dagg replacing Waiseke Naholo on the wing and a new centre pairing of Malakai Fekitoa and Anton Liernert-Brown.
Crucially, veteran locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock return to the second row after the pair’s injury-enforced absence was keenly felt at Soldier Field.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) November 17, 2016
Fly half Beauden Barrett, recently crowned World Rugby player of the year, returns along with a large group of established stars rested by Hansen for the Italy match.
The loss to Ireland was New Zealand’s first in 29 meetings between the pair stretching back 111 years and snapped a record run of 18 consecutive test wins for the All Blacks.
Hansen said there was “obvious disappointment” at the defeat and his players were keen to face Ireland again.
Never one to shy away from mind games, Hansen even suggested the back-to-back world champions would be underdogs in the Irish capital.
Watch: Ireland v New Zealand highlights
“We know the challenge we face from Ireland will again be massive and we are going into the game as the underdogs,” he said.
“They’ll be full of confidence and committed to delivering on their home patch.”
Despite his comments, bookmakers in both New Zealand and Ireland have the All Blacks as short-priced favourites to prevent a well-drilled Ireland repeating their Chicago heroics.
New Zealand team to face Ireland
Ben Smith; Israel Dagg, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Liam Squire; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Waisake Naholo
Meanwhile, Ireland made one enforced change, handing Sean O’Brien a start at flanker as they aim for two-in-row against the All Blacks.
“You certainly wouldn’t put us as favourites against a team that won 18-in-a-row against some of the best teams in the world and did it by some margin,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said, referring to the record winning streak the Irish also broke.
“I think everyone is due a hiccup. I felt we deserved to get our nose in front when we did and the players managed to protect the lead but at the same time, I don’t think they are going to afford us any head starts this weekend.”
The injury-prone O’Brien, who played his first international since February last weekend, comes in for Leinster teammate Jordi Murphy, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during his best performance in green in the New Zealand win.
On the other flank, CJ Stander’s commanding performances since making a man-of-the-match winning debut earlier this year meant there was no space in the 23-man matchday squad for fit-again Munster teammate Peter O’Mahony.
Ireland team to face New Zealand:
Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Jack McGrath.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Garry Ringrose.
Additional reporting by Reuters