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All Blacks will be determined not to lose to Ireland

By Niall Crozier

It's that time of year again – the autumn internationals and all of what that means in terms of assessing who is in good shape, who is not and what impact, if any, results at this stage might have on events further down the line.

It may be just under two years away, but already the 2015 World Cup is focusing minds. When is the best time to start replacing players who are unlikely to be involved – or in the case of Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, guaranteed not to be there having decided this is his last season on the big stage?

The November programme can be very misleading, of course. This time last year Wales appeared to be a state of almost total disarray following defeats in each of their four autumnal outings, all at the Millennium Stadium.

Argentina were 26-12 victors, six days later Samoa won 26-19 and New Zealand inflicted a third successive defeat, the margin being 33-10.

On December 1, Australia – who had subjected the Welsh to three successive Test losses Down Under the previous June – beat them on their home turf too.

But fast-forward to the Spring 2013 Six Nations Championship and Ireland won 30-22 in Cardiff on the opening day, Wales proceeded to beat France and Italy, both away from home, before putting Scotland and England to the sword.

The manner of their destruction of the English was awesome, with Wales outscoring their greatest rivals by an emphatic 30-3 points margin and, in the process, making a complete nonsense of the visitors' pre-match billing as Grand Slam winners-in-waiting.

England had arrived in Cardiff with the scalps of the Scots, the Irish, the French and the Italians. But from the outset the Welsh made it plain that they had no intention of joining those vanquished nations in the English bag of kills.

Not only did they finish the season as champions; in Sam Warburton they went on to provide the captain of the summer 2013 British and Irish Lions for the conquest of Australia.And when injury forced Warburton out of the winner-takes-all third Test, fellow-countryman Alun-Wyn Jones led the victorious visitors whose starting line-up featured a record-equalling 10 Welsh players.

Yes, the November programme can be very misleading.

But based on the available evidence, what can we reasonably expect between now and November 30 when Wales host Australia in the last of the 2013 autumn matches?

Already England are up and running, Saturday's 20-13 win over the Australians at Twickenham having seen them not only consolidate third spot in the IRB world rankings but gain half a point on second-placed South Africa, too. Meanwhile Australia's defeat means they are now just two ranking points ahead of France who occupy the fifth rung on the IRB ladder.

All the top sides are in action in the next few weeks, so it promises to be a very interesting month.

This weekend's schedule offers one or two potential classics; just try France (5th) v New Zealand (1st), Wales (6th) v South Africa (2nd) and Ireland (8th) v Samoa (7th) for size.

England (3rd) v Argentina (10th) should be a pleasant post-aperitif consommé for Stuart Lancaster's men ahead of the main course – their November 16 Twickenham date with New Zealand who have occupied the number one spot for almost four years.

Following those Tests in Paris and London, the Kiwis head to Dublin where, ironically, a New Zealander will be hoping to create history by masterminding Ireland's first ever victory over them. Joe Schmidt, the new Irish coach, is aiming to topple his fellow-countrymen and, as fate would have it, the timing of this fixture could help him.

Consider: in June the All Blacks played France three times and between mid-August and early October they competed in the Investec Four Nations Championship which saw them face South Africa, Australia and Argentina home and away.

On October 19 they played Australia once more, this time in the Bledisloe Cup and last weekend they were in Tokyo. Now that's a lot of travel as well as a lot of Test football crammed into a short period, so they will be tired at the end of what has been another gruelling campaign.

That said, motivation just never seems to be a problem for these guys and the dread of becoming the first New Zealand side to lose to Ireland undoubtedly will be their spur against any fatigue.

Belfast Telegraph

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