CHICAGO, IL – Even in the midst of the Chicago Cubs first World Series Championship in 108 year, a bigger David and Goliath story waits in the shadows.
Tomorrow’s match between Ireland and New Zealand at Chicago’s famed Soldier Field pits the world number one New Zealand All Blacks against an Irish team that has struggled of late to find its identity.
Steve Hansen’s New Zealand has gone on an unprecedented 18-match win streak in international competition, and the Kiwi’s head coach has named yet another strong side to face the Irish. Kieran Read resumes his role as captain and will line up alongside major experience in Jerome Kaino, Owen Franks, and Dane Coles in the forward pack. Despite relative inexperience (only 10 caps), Patrick Tuipulotu will pull on the number four jersey and line-up in the back row alongside Liam Squire in what is deemed to be the All Blacks biggest weakness.
Beauden Barrett will command the back-line from fly-half and resume his partnership with Aaron Smith, while Julian Savea and Ryan Crotty form a daunting midfield partnership to face Henshaw and Payne. Considering that Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallic, and Luke Romano are all out of the squad, tomorrow’s side facing Ireland is relatively inexperienced by modern Kiwi standards.
On the other side of the ball, Irish head coach Joe Schmidt has stuck with experience to try and combat the explosive New Zealand attack. Recalling Rob Kearney and Jared Payne into fullback and outside-center, respectively, shows Schmidt’s need for higher defensive talent, but also implies that the Irish will have a heavier reliance on the kicking game.
Jonathon Sexton has stayed healthy enough to get the start and will work with Conor Murray to shore-up the Irish midfield. Rory Best, Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan, and Jamie Heaslip are the most experienced Irish forwards amongst a group of big Irish talent, and the return of Jordi Murphy and CJ Stander to the flanks gives Ireland a robust defensive deterrent against New Zealand’s domineering attack from the scrum.
Both sides also highlight young talent on the bench; Leinster stars Joey Carbery and Gary Ringrose, and Connacht’s Ultan Dillane for the Irish, while New Zealand has Ardie Savea and Ofa Tu’ungafasi.
For the Kiwi’s, their main focus will be on starting the match quickly and on the front foot. This New Zealand does not have many weaknesses, but if they do not start scoring early and continue to let Ireland hang in the game they will put themselves at risk of a major upset.
For Ireland, their game plan must be based on fast paced and stringent defense that new defensive coach Andy Farrell has been implementing since his arrival. New Zealand scores most of their tries from attack with at least one missed tackle, so there will be a heavy emphasis on getting Kiwi attackers to the floor. At the breakdown, the Irish absolutely must defend the fringes, an area of attack that Southern hemisphere sides have exploited against Northern hemisphere sides since the World Cup last year. Lastly, the Irish must be opportunistic in their attack, as New Zealand does not easily give away chances to capitalize upon.
Fans are flowing into Chicago awaiting play of the most important rugby match this year. Seventy thousand plus fans will flood Soldier Field and create the best atmosphere the United States has seen.
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