With Ireland touching down in New Zealand for a three-game series that marks the beginning of the sprint towards next year’s World Cup, and indeed head coach Andy Farrell stating that the trip encompasses a tougher schedule than any World Cup, the importance of this tour to the visitors is clear.
But, as they prepare to welcome Ireland to their shores for a first time since 2012, is this perhaps the first time such a fixture will hold greater importance to the hosts?
At the end of a long season, Ireland have made the journey knowing that one win, given it would be their first on New Zealand soil, would represent an historic return.
Quite what would be a success for the three-time World Cup winners is harder to define.
Having been hammered by England at the semi-final stage of their Webb Ellis trophy defence three years ago, Covid naturally had a huge impact upon the first half on the cycle towards France ‘23, while last year they enjoyed the Rugby Championship before enduring two defeats on their end-of-season tour of the northern hemisphere.
The All Blacks have a Wildean attitude to losses. One can perhaps be chalked up to misfortune but two is nothing more than careless.
Mitigation counts for little. That Ireland produced their best performance of the last four years to beat them in Dublin got little consideration back home.
The fact that France have built a team that would win a Grand Slam only four months later wouldn’t have counted for much either.
On ‘The All Blacks Podcast’ last month, head coach Ian Foster explained that perhaps the rest of the world was catching up on the Kiwis when it came to their two traditional areas of supremacy — speed and skill.
Foster described the year-ending results as something of an “uppercut” and their response will be telling.
With the Foster era still feeling like it is in something of a limbo after the successes of Steve Hansen, and two Tests against the Springboks in South Africa to follow these games against Farrell’s side, the next months will tell us plenty about the sport’s pre-eminent side.