New Zealand’s November 9 Test with Ireland in Dublin is the must-see rugby game of the year.
That’s the view of respected English rugby writer Chris Hewett.
He said everything else pales in comparison in his weekly column in The Rugby Paper.
“Ireland-New Zealand will be the headline news: two state-of-the-art teams engaged in a ‘championship of each other’ to pinch a gloriously resonant phrase from the world of boxing.
“It took the Irish something more than a century to find a way of beating the Kiwis; a single draw at the old Lansdowne Road in 1973 was their best showing in the 28 games played between 1905 and 2015.
“Then came the first victory, in Chicago of all places. Since when, the two teams have traded blows like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier: eight games, a majority of them bordering on the epic, with four wins apiece.”
Hewett went so far as to rate Ireland the new Enemy No1 for the All Blacks, even ahead of their rivalry with the world champion Springboks.
That, he said, was because the Springboks, who had become masters of sudden-death rugby on the grandest stags, had developed the habit of saving their best for Rugby World Cups.
Their best players spend the rest of their time playing in England, France or Japan.
“One of the reasons Ireland-New Zealand enmity is emerging as the defining struggle of the in-between years is their shared approach to the international game.
“Both base their structure on a small number of professionalised provincial teams with a strong input from their national unions.
“Both do their damnedest to keep players onshore. Both draw heavily on a constellation of high-performing rugby schools (by no means all of them fee-paying, apart from those in swanky Dublin).”
But Ireland’s success in securing its place near the top of the world rankings over the last decade means Aviva Stadium has supplanted Twickenham as the acid test for southern hemisphere sides, and the All Blacks are the team that attracts the biggest crowds.
“Now throw in the Andy Farrell factor. If Rassie Erasmus and his megalithic Springboks – a scrum the size of Stonehenge and just as immovable – makes him a natural for the pantomime villain role down there in Henry-Hansen-Smith territory, Farrell is respected as the classiest of class acts and feared as a genuine threat. He needs to be taken down.”
While the All Blacks also have to meet France a week after the Dublin encounter, Hewett said there has been no sign Fabien Galthie’s side has gotten over its World Cup disappointment.
“Thanks in no small part to Farrell’s stewardship of his squad, the Irish are in a different, far more positive place, which is why the All Blacks identify the Aviva Stadium as the place of greater jeopardy.”