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Preview: New Zealand v Ireland

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Sportal.co.nz     07 Jun 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, 19.35 (NZT)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 24, New Zealand 23, Ireland 0, Drawn 1

LAST TIME: November 20, 2010 (Dublin) – New Zealand 38-18 Ireland.

WALKING WOUNDED: New Zealand are down several of the World Cup-winning stars. Most notable is IRB player of the year contender Jerome Kaino who is out for the season as is utility back Isaia Toeava while hooker Keven Mealamu is not being considered for the first Test while he gets over his calf injury. Wings Cory Jane and Richard Kahui and first five-eighths Colin Slade were all unable to be considered due to injury. And training squad member prop Charlie Faumuina is not sufficiently recovered to be considered.
Ireland's prop Mike Ross is a big loss after failing to recover from a hamstring stain. Already missing from the side was lock and 85-Test veteran Paul O'Connell and former New Zealand provincial halfback Isaac Boss and flanker Stephen Ferris who suffered a calf muscle injury. Ulster's Tom Court also missed out due to a broken thumb. Add to that the retirements of loose forward Denis Leamy and fullback Geordan Murphy and it has been tough times for the tourists.

FORM:
New Zealand:(All at home)
V France (WC final) Won 8-7
V Australia Won 20-6
VArgentina Won 33-10
V Canada Won 79-15
V France Won 37-17

Ireland:
V England Lost 9-30 (A)
V Scotland Won 32-14 (H)
V France Drew 17-17 (A)
V Italy Won 42-10 (H)
V Wales Lost 21-23 (A)

Ireland arrived in New Zealand after a busy end to their season with Leinster involved in both the Heineken Cup and Celtic League finals while Ulster reached the final of the Cup as well. In their warm-up game to the tour and Ireland XV was beaten by the Barbarians 28-29.

New Zealand have a reputation for making a slow start to their season, although that was not something that was obvious over the past few years. Most have been consistent in their appearances for their Super Rugby teams this year and that should ensure that it is only a matter of finding their cohesion to cause Ireland some worries.

WHO'S HOT: New Zealand's key men have all been running into their best form after injury concerns. Captain and flanker Richie McCaw had a delayed start as his foot recovered from surgery but he has quickly regained his mojo while first five-eighths star Dan Carter has also looked more like the sharp operator in his recent outings, and especially since returning to the No.10 jersey. Hooker Andrew Hore hasn't minded a heavy workload up front while prop Tony Woodcock's scrummaging power has been one of the few positives for the Blues team this year. And new cap he may be but lock Brodie Retallick has impressed with his basic rugby savvy while second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams has been little short of dynamic.

Fullback Rob Kearney has enjoyed a big season and showed his best touches in the Heineken Cup final where his aerial ability and defensive play was matched by well taken chances with the ball in hand. Centre Brian O'Driscoll may have been out for much of the home season due to injury but his experience and class mean he always has to be watched closely. Prop Cian Healy was impressive in his loosehead prop role and faces extra responsibility with a rookie in Declan Fitzpatrick making his debut in the toughest circumstances. First five-eighths Jonathan Sexton has been growing as one of the most accomplished in his position in the world and will be another needing to be carefully watched given his thrust off the mark.

WE THINK: One of the most constant refrains from captain Brian O'Driscoll in his seven visits to New Zealand on rugby playing business has been his regret at his team getting into winning positions only to fade in the final quarter. That would seem to be a prospect again as the home team, carrying their much touted mixture of enthusiasm and youth, set about their business again without the weight of World Cup expectation hanging over them. In fine conditions there might be 15 points in favour of the home team, but if it is wet that could reduce to 10.

TEAMS:
New Zealand1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Andrew Hore, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Brodie Retallick, 5.Sam Whitelock, 6.Victor Vito, 7.Richie McCaw (captain), 8.Kieran Read, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Daniel Carter, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Sonny Bill Williams, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Zac Guildford, 15.Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16.Hikawera Elliot, 17.Ben Franks, 18.Ali Williams, 19.Adam Thomson, 20.Piri Weepu, 21.Aaron Cruden, 22.Ben Smith.

Ireland 1.Cian Healy, 2.Rory Best, 3.Declan Fitzpatrick, 4.Dan Touhy, 5.Donnacha Ryan, 6. Peter O'Mahony,7.Sean O'Brien, 8.Jamie Heaslip, 9.Conor Murray, 11.Simon Zebo, 12.Keith Earls, 13.Brian O'Driscoll (captain), 14.Fergus McFadden, 15.Rob Kearney.

Reserves: 16.Sean Cronin, 17.Ronan Loughney, 18.Donncha O'Callaghan, 19.Kevin McLaughlin, 20.Eoin Reddan, 21.Ronan O'Gara, 22.Darren Cave.

REFEREE: Nigel Owens