Irish dreams off finally winning a knock-out game at a Rugby World Cups face the prospect of felling two-time reigning world champions New Zealand in Tokyo. Joe Schmidt’s side has garnered a healthy 66% win-loss ratio over the last three years against the All Blacks, claiming famous victories over Steve Hansen’s side in 2016 and 2018.
The New Zealanders head into the quarter-finals as one of four undefeated sides – alongside England, Wales and Japan – at the tournament, winning all three of their Pool B clashes unaffected by Typhoon Hagibis. Ireland, meanwhile, finished second in Pool A after tripping up at a Japan-shaped hurdle during round two.
Despite heading into today’s second for playoff games this weekend off the back of poor form tracing back to the 2019 Six Nations last February, Ireland have opted for the old faces that saw them rise to tournament favourites at the end of 2018. Schmidt has kept faith with out-of-form Munster blindside flanker Peter O’Mahony and number eight CJ Stander, resisting the lure of a backrow reshuffle off the back of a number of poor backrow performances.
Steve Hansen, meanwhile, has held fast with his decision to start the inexperienced Crusaders wing pairing of Sevu Reece and George Bridge alongside former starting fly-half turned playmaking fullback, Beauden Barrett. Hansen doubled down on his selection surprises by dropping 83-cap fullback/wing Ben Smith from the 23 entirely, opting for the youngest of the Barrett brothers, Jordie, in the 23 jersey.
“The best part is we know who we’re playing. They’re [Ireland] a quality side, they’ve been No. 1 this year.” Hansen said ahead of facing Ireland this week.