Sydney’s Irish fans crossed the gap for the game of the year. Photo / Raphael Franks
Pubs are preparing in Kingsland for tonight’s game between New Zealand and Ireland.
They’re expecting 3-4 times more than usual, and hours before kick-off the fans are already arriving.
Fans sport their team colors and, so far, the green shirts are hard to spot in a sea of black.
There is no doubt on either side who will win, but the focus is on enjoying the night.
All Blacks v Ireland – all you need to know
What’s new ?
All Blacks v Ireland, the opening test of a three match tour. Kick off at 7:05 p.m. at Eden Park.
What’s at stake?
The All Blacks are likely to meet either Ireland or South Africa (whom they will face in two Tests just after this series) in the quarter-finals of next year’s Rugby World Cup. So there will be a lot of tea leaves to sift after this round.
In a word:
If the All Blacks win all three matches, the streak doesn’t matter. If you lose one, we’ll shift nervously in our seats. Lose the series and it’s back to national lockdowns and 1pm briefings.
So, is this one of those half-baked teams that nations from the northern hemisphere send here and we score by 50 points?
No. Ireland are a real team – and tonight’s first test is their best chance to break another barrier, beating the All Blacks at home. They will be greatly helped by the fact that the All Blacks are often testy in their first test of the year.
But the length of the tour should catch up with them by the time they arrive in Wellington for the third test on July 16. Some players will need to double between midweek games against the Māori All Blacks and Saturday Tests – there are three on the bench tonight (Conor Murray, Joey Carberry and Bundee Aki) who featured in Wednesday’s loss against the Maori.
For the Irish, tonight is night.
Also in game:
There is the much-discussed issue of the All Blacks Never Ever Losing at Eden Park. The last time the national team lost was in 1994, when Wet Wet Wet’s Love Is All Around topped the charts and a skinny, bright-eyed kid called Ian Foster played five-eights for Waikato.
Shape of Ireland:
In March, the Irish beat England 32-15 at Twickenham, finishing second in the competition thanks to a 30-24 loss to eventual winners France in Paris.
They have won three of the last five matches between these two teams, having never won an All Black scalp before 2016. Ten of the starters named by coach Andy Farrell were part of the team that won in Dublin last November. These guys know what it takes to beat the All Blacks, and they know how to break hoodoos.
Recent form of the All Blacks:
Let’s just try to stay optimistic, okay?
Who’s the referee?
Englishman Karl Dickson is the referee. He whistled during November’s game between the All Blacks and Italy in Rome – a match which rugby caller ZB Elliott Smith called ‘one of the worst spectacles in rugby’s recent memory’… and he saw Josh Kronfeld perform a paso doble on Dancing with the Stars.
Dickson has a side hustle: He’s part of Out Of The Scrum, a rugby training company that shares practice drills on its Facebook page, including a breakdown practice that feels like a more brutal version of Duck Duck Goose. Along the same lines, he used to blog about parenting issues on Baba’s website.
So the referee will treat the players like babies?
More sulky teenagers. He was playing a game that involved his former Harlequins teammate Kyle Sinkler last year when the Lions prop looked at him and yelled, “Are you f****** serious.”
Sinkler was not sent to his room.
Has the referee revealed any ideas about his philosophy?
“Never stand directly in front of a baby when changing, always stand to the side.”
The list of patients
Losing a few big names to injury and illness is nothing new, but the All Blacks roster is notable: David Havili, Jack Goodhue, Will Jordan, Joe Moody, Anton Lienert-Brown, Akira Ioane and Ethan Blackadder are all absent. And Covid-19 swept through their coaching staff faster than a bunch of QAnon crazies in the crowd at a Donald Trump rally.
The Irish are without a lock injured Iain Henderson, and Mack Hansen has returned a positive Covid test.
What do the Irish say?
Writing in the Irish Times, Australian-Irish commentator Matt Williams observed that the All Blacks “are dirty, filthy and angry at Ireland for beating them in Dublin last November”.
Mind you, he also said “Kiwis aren’t here to put socks on centipedes” — and we’re pretty sure the actual quote has something to do with ducks and spiders.
Two former World Players of the Year, Beauden Barrett and Johnny Sexton, run the show. In Ireland’s recent success against the All Blacks, containing Barrett has been key – and tourists will have recognized and appreciated the way the Crusaders shut down the No 10 in the Super Rugby final. But, more than ever, it will come down to their big guys versus our big guys.
Catch the action:
Commentary from the test is broadcast live on Newstalk ZB, Gold Sport and iHeartRadio, with a live blog on the Herald.
The match is broadcast on Sky Sport 1 and streamed live on Sky Sport Now. And you can hear the Alternative Commentary Collective’s eminently sensitive hot-takes by tuning into Sky Sport 9, Radio Hauraki or following their iHeartRadio channel.
Go to the game?
Of course, you! 120 trains and buses serve the site free of charge. The good folks at Eden Park’s public relations team tell us they expect to sell 6,500 trays of hot fries and 2,000 boxes of donuts. The PR team also asks – reasonably enough – that anyone attending the game be nice to the staff.
All Blacks: Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane (c), Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Ofa Tuungafasi, Codie Taylor, George Bower.
Reservations: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Pita Gus Sowakula, Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton (c), Jamison Gibson-Park, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan , Andrew Porter.
Reservations: Dan Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Cian Healy, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Bundee Aki.