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Irish face daunting task in bid to halt the mighty All Blacks

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Bullish: All Blacks Liam Squire, Steven Luatua, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea and Damian McKenzie at a Chicago Bulls game

Bullish: All Blacks Liam Squire, Steven Luatua, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea and Damian McKenzie at a Chicago Bulls game

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Bullish: All Blacks Liam Squire, Steven Luatua, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea and Damian McKenzie at a Chicago Bulls game

New Zealand touched down in Chicago yesterday on a mission to add Ireland's scalp to their growing collection.

The bookies rate Joe Schmidt's side's chances of achieving an historic first win over the back-to-back World champions at Soldier Field on Saturday at 10/1, and you won't find many outside the squad talking up the outsiders' chances.

Steve Hansen's All Blacks have a 100 per cent record over the past 18 matches, a record for a Tier One country. During that run they have picked up the Webb Ellis Cup for the second successive time and then, after losing five key players to retirement, won the Rugby Championship in record fashion.

Under Hansen, the All Blacks have a 92 per cent win rate, losing three times and drawing twice in 64 Tests. Of the 59 wins, just 11 have been by seven points or less.

There is little argument that this is the most dominant team in international sport.

Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock all moved on after claiming the World Cup at Twickenham a year ago today, but the relentless drive for success has not diminished.

In their absence, a new breed have stepped forward, but the ship is being steered by a coterie of players like captain Kieran Read, full-back Ben Smith, scrum-half Aaron Smith, second-rows Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles.

It's their team now, but they in turn are being pushed all the way by another generation of talented players and Hansen has no hesitation to wield the axe when needed.

In their 10 games this year, all against Tier One opponents, they have won the last half-hour by an average of 28 points. Staying with them is one thing but finishing the job is quite another.

The All Blacks' game plan is ruthlessly efficient and appears effortlessly simple, but it is built on a relentless commitment to the skills of the game. They make every second a contest and have front-row forwards who can throw delicious 15-metre passes off either side.

Despite a population similar in size to Ireland, they can rely on a production line that never ceases throwing up players of rare ability, so their talent pool goes deeper than their rivals.

The question is routinely asked of northern hemisphere-based Kiwis as to what makes New Zealand different.

Ulster's Jared Payne, who will face the country of his birth on Saturday, said: "The weather plays a big part. There, you can work on your skills 10 months of the year whereas here it is three-four months of the season.

"It is encouraged at a young age to get more skilful. It is the only choice."

England coach Eddie Jones is not buying the mythology around the World champions.

He said: "New Zealand have flaws in their game. They've got significant weaknesses."

No one has found those weaknesses so far in 2016. Ireland get two bites at the cherry this month, but this cherry bites back hard.

Belfast Telegraph