Peter O'Mahony will start when Ireland face New Zealand at Eden Park

All Blacks have huge respect for the Irish after recent meetings
Peter O'Mahony will start when Ireland face New Zealand at Eden Park

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony is tackled by Dane Coles and Rieko Ioane of New Zealand. Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

HOSTING the opening Test of the upcoming Test Series at the iconic Eden Park is probably the greatest compliment that New Zealand could give to Ireland.

It is a clear indication that they see Ireland as a genuine threat and are doing everything in their power to make this series as awkward as possible for Andy Farrell’s side.

You know the All Blacks are worried when they throw a match into Eden Park.

They have an unbeaten streak of 46 games at the venue stretching all the way back to the famous 23-20 loss to France in July 1994.

They feel invincible there, and any time they are feeling somewhat vulnerable they go there.

It is their security blanket.

They did the same in 2012, when the sides last faced off in a three-match Test series, and a 42-10 New Zealand win set up an eventual All Black series whitewash, but in truth they would not have feared Ireland 10 years ago.

Ireland have won three of the last five Tests between the two sides, which is a stat that neither Kiwi or Irish rugby supporters would have comprehended a decade ago.

These famous victories in Chicago and two in Dublin have changed the dynamic of the rivalry forever, and with the memory of last November’s 29-20 defeat at the Aviva Stadium still fresh in the memory, there will be no doubting how hard the All Blacks will be trying to ensure they go one up in this Series.

Covid has not done the All Blacks any favours with their backline decimated, with flying winger Will Jordan as well as centre pairing David Havili and Jack Goodhue all missing the first Test due to contracting the virus.

The absence of this trio has to be a boost for Ireland, although the real battle is going to be fought up front.

Ireland will miss the likes of Iain Henderson, Ronan Kelleher, and Rob Herring in what is bound to be an extremely frenetic front five battle.

Keith Earls and Peter O’Mahony will start for Ireland against New Zealand in Saturday’s first Test at Eden Park with Andy Farrell also selecting Cian Healy for a bench role less than 12 hours after the prop left the field on a stretcher cart.

IRELAND (v New Zealand): 

H Keenan (Leinster); K Earls (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), R Henshaw (Leinster), J Lowe (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster, c), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster), T Beirne (Munster), J Ryan (Leinster); P O’Mahony (Munster0, J van der Flier (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: D Heffernan (Connacht), F Bealham (Connacht), C Healy (Leinster), K Treadwell (Ulster), J Conan (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J Carbery (Munster), B Aki (Connacht).

New Zealand might not have the sheer size of the French and South African front five, but they will be able to match them in terms of ferociousness, especially on home turf.

To have any hope of kickstarting the series with a first Ireland win on New Zealand soil, the likes of Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter will have to be as dominant as they were in Dublin last November.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland’s confidence levels were recently damaged in the manner in which Leinster had their Champions Cup and URC campaigns ended by La Rochelle and the Vodacom Bulls, given the fact that Leinster backbone Ireland, and the watching All Blacks management team were presented with a template for disrupting Ireland’s game plan.

And this is what makes this such an intriguing game. Ireland have probably never travelled to New Zealand with such a brilliant opportunity of winning, yet there is also ample evidence to suggest that it could go horribly wrong too.

The kick-off can’t come quickly enough.

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