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Ireland v New Zealand: Schmidt warns of Kiwis on revenge mission

Guinness Series: Ireland v New Zealand - Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Readying his side to face an All Blacks outfit seeking revenge, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt believes he is preparing for the biggest challenge in the game.

Having lost New Zealand's unbeaten run against Ireland, and their own 18-game winning streak, when Schmidt's men won 40-29 in Chicago two weeks ago, the back-to-back World champions will not be lacking in motivation come tomorrow's Aviva Stadium rematch.

"I don't think you could get a tougher test because I think that they are unhappy, obviously," said Ireland's master tactician on the mindset of his homeland.

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"When you win 18 in a row and you get into that habit, you're not happy to lose that. I know they were quite outspoken about being driven to continue that through to the end of the calendar year and that hasn't happened for them, so they want to get straight back on track.

"With the talent they have, it's going to be incredibly tough to stop them doing that. We've tried to internalise a couple of lessons that we learned in Chicago and we've stayed pretty much focused on ourselves and what we can try to manage."

Even with New Zealand and Australia still to come this month, Schmidt's recent extension keeping him in situ until 2019's World Cup means he can now afford at least a small glimpse towards the future.

Perhaps, it is no surprise that the side he wants to emulate are Saturday's opponents.

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So often at this time of year, we marvel at the depth of talent available to Steve Hansen's all-conquering side and Ireland's own Kiwi coach is doing is utmost to develop the kind of playing pool that can go toe to toe with the silver fern on a consistent basis, not just once every 111 years.

Saturday's clash will see five changes to the All Black starting line-up that took the field that historic day in Chicago - Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Anton Lienart-Brown, Malakai Fekitoa and Israel Dagg all return - in an indication that their conveyor belt of Test-ready stars remain what nations like Ireland aspire to.

"Obviously, there's an awareness of the quality of some of the players they're bringing in that didn't play us last time," reflected Schmidt. "The second-rows (Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick), but also Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, those guys are new to the group after Chicago.

"We feel that they were very tough to beat last time and they're going to be tougher to beat this time. I think, from us, we've got a huge respect for them and how could you not?

"The last two World Cups they've won plus some of the margins they've put on incredibly good teams - teams that beat us recently like against South Africa."

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It was in those defeats to the Springboks that Schmidt says he started to see the depth - an issue that derailed his 2015 World Cup when five sure starters missed the quarter-final defeat to Argentina - he so badly craves begin to emerge.

"I think coming back from South Africa, some of the players who made their test debuts there, guys like Tiernan O'Halloran, realised 'hang on a minute we can actually compete with these guys'.

"We had to get those second tier, new players in.

"A guy like Josh Van der Flier, that was only his third test match coming off the bench in Chicago for 56 minutes against a huge team.

"For him it was a massive step. He's got to get confidence from that I'm sure, and I think there are a few other guys who will get confidence from it."

For evidence, see the changes Schmidt himself has made for this weekend after niggling injuries hit his squad.

With Jordi Murphy out, the former Leinster supremo could choose to bring in either Peter O'Mahony or Sean O'Brien into his back-row.

Likewise his second-row cover, where Ultan Dillane, man of the match against Canada a week ago, was struggling with a knee injury but Ulster's Iain Henderson was ready for a recall.

"There's a few guys who haven't been able to train fully this week," he said.

"Ultan Dillane just has had a bit of a sore knee. We've had it checked out, there's nothing serious there. He should be fully ready to go next week.

"Keith Earls hasn't trained so far this week with mostly just a dead leg. He'll be fine for next week and Peter O'Mahony didn't manage to see out training on Monday. He trained fully (Thursday), but we wanted to give some clarity before training. We had fit players, so we've gone with those players.

"You've got Ultan (out), who was player of the match last week, but Iain Henderson is really motivated to come on and help out later in this game. That keeps the pressure on Donnacha (Ryan) and Devin (Toner) who might be starting this one. That's what we need.

"Even the All Blacks need that depth. Any team is a little bit susceptible if they lose their big players.

"Why are they the big players? Because they play the big games and win the big moments that swing games."

If depth is one hallmark of sport's finest sides, another is consistency and it's that trait Simon Zebo wants to see from his team-mates this weekend.

The winger who scored the fourth try in Chicago is all too aware that, while none came against the All Blacks, Ireland have secured noteworthy victories in the past but been unable to follow it up in the weeks and months to come.

Indeed, citing the example of the 2012 summer tour, it has been noted by the squad that their performances against New Zealand have at times varied wildly even from week to week.

It was then, after a second Test when only a last-minute Dan Carter drop goal secured victory for the hosts, that Ireland endured a Hamilton horror show - a 60-0 defeat and a low point of their professional era.

Zebo is determined, after what has been described as 'poking the bear' two weeks ago, that this time they will have an answer for a fired-up All Blacks.

"We want to build on that performance," he said of the 40-29 triumph.

"We're not happy just settling on it and saying, 'it was 111 years, we got the win, we can go out and get hockeyed this weekend' - that's not it.

"We want to get better. It's through us playing well that we'll make the All Blacks look human.

"We'll try to get better and try to improve on a few areas where we can and hopefully attack them and try to score some more points.

"We can't let these one-off performances limit us. If we want to grow as a squad and compete with the best teams in the world, you have to do it on a consistent basis."

Consistent from week to week but also throughout the game. Knowing that whatever the score, New Zealand will have periods dominating territory in possession, the Munster man says Ireland can ill-afford any lapses in concentration from first whistle to last.

"That means we have to show up for 80 minutes again this week. We have to be there or thereabouts come 75-80 minutes to get the win. We know we have to show consistency on the highest stage against the best teams in the world and prove it's not a once-off."

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