sports gazette

Tana Umaga previews Ireland v New Zealand

Published: 18 Nov 2016

The ex-All Black captain expects an exciting affair in Dublin on Saturday.

After the scintillating action provided by the first game in Chicago, the rugby world will turn its gaze to the Aviva Stadium this weekend for the heavily-anticipated rematch between Ireland and New Zealand.

Two weeks ago, the All Blacks were stunned by an Irish side that took an early lead and never looked back. The result ended a couple of notable streaks, namely the All Blacks' world record 18 straight victories and Ireland's 111 year drought against the Kiwi side.

Both teams secured comfortable victories last weekend to set the stage for another heavyweight match-up on Sunday.

Former All-Black captain and current Maori All-Black assistant coach Tana Umaga admitted that the result in Chicago came as a bit of a shock.

He said: "Look, I think most people were shocked but that's rugby. That's the beauty of it. You have to be performing to your upmost every week and if you don't then sides like Ireland will take advantage of that."

Ireland jumped out to a 25-8 half-time lead but after Simon Zebo added another score following the break, New Zealand came roaring back into the game.

There will have been flashbacks to 2013 for Irish fans, when the All Blacks turned around a 22-8 deficit to win a heart-breaking game on the last play.

This time, Ireland held their nerve. Having seen their advantage reduced to just four, with goal-kicker Jonny Sexton off the field injured, they resisted waves of Kiwi attacks before scoring themselves through Robbie Henshaw to put the game out of reach.

Maori All-Blacks full-back James Lowe, fresh from a five-try haul in three games, admitted it "sucked" to lose to Ireland.

"It always does, it doesn't matter who you are. But to be honest, I'd rather have lost to Ireland than any other nation."

"It's good for rugby" Umaga conceded about the Irish victory, "but the All Blacks never like to lose."

They certainly do not. Since January 2012, the All Blacks have lost just four test matches and have put together winning streaks of 17 and 18 games - both records at the time.

Italy were the unfortunate side to face the immediate All Black wrath last week, receiving a 68-10 hammering in Rome but there's no doubt that New Zealand will want revenge this weekend.

"Yeah, there will be a little extra to this rematch" Umaga said with a smile, "but Ireland will be very confident. They know they can beat them, and they'll want to beat them at home."

It's a sentiment that was echoed earlier in the week by former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris, who feels that New Zealand will enter the game "like a wounded animal".

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, as is his style, played down his sides chances, claiming that they enter the game on Saturday as underdogs.

They will certainly be fielding a stronger team, at least on paper, as first-choice lock combination Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock return, with Malakai Fekitoa bolstering the back line.

Ireland welcome back openside flanker Sean O'Brien for this clash as they stick with largely the same team that upset the All Blacks in Chicago.

"It's going to be a plenty-exciting game" said Umaga.

"This weekend for Ireland is going to be awesome - it's going to be a good one" added Lowe.

Ireland may feel like they have a lot to lose and not much to gain following their fantastic victory a fortnight ago, but the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium will be electric and a second consecutive victory against this All Blacks team would represent one of the stunning rugby upsets in recent memory.

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; D Toner, D Ryan; CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, J van der Flier, K Marmion, P Jackson, G Ringrose.

New Zealand: B Smith; I Dagg, M Fekitoa, A Lienert-Brown, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; L Squire, S Can, K Read (capt).

Replacements: C Taylor, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, W Naholo.

Ireland v New Zealand, Saturday 19th November, 17:30pm.

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