By Ed Elliot, PA
Hooker Dan Sheehan expects New Zealand to be out for revenge but believes Ireland’s players have a “massive opportunity” to cement places in the history books.
The All Blacks will run out at a sold-out Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday having had plenty of time to stew on successive defeats suffered last autumn, including a 29-20 loss in Dublin.
Andy Farrell’s in-form tourists go into the three-match series on the back of being beaten just once in 13 Tests during the past 17 months.
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Yet Ireland have never tasted victory against their hosts on New Zealand soil and are set to play at a stadium in which the All Blacks hold a 46-match unbeaten record stretching back to 1994.
“We’ve been thinking about this game all year, especially after the autumn game,” said Sheehan.
“We’re expecting a reaction and we’re ready for whatever comes tomorrow.
“I’m sure they want to get a bit of revenge on us for winning over in the Aviva. But our motivation is at top level as well.
“They haven’t lost here in 28 years – I wasn’t born – so that has its pressures.
“But, at the same time, it’s a massive opportunity for an Irish team to come over and win on New Zealand soil for the first time.
“We’re expecting a big crowd, a big apprehensive environment and we’re used to it. We’ve gone to various big stadiums across the world and we expect it to be buzzing here tomorrow night.”
Sheehan only made his international debut in November but has seized the Irish number two jersey due to repeated injury misfortune for Leinster team-mate Ronan Kelleher.
The 23-year-old, who has also jumped ahead of Ulster’s Rob Herring in the pecking order, came on as a replacement in the autumn wins over Japan and Argentina, albeit he had to settle for a spectator role for the stunning All Blacks victory sandwiched in between.
He then established himself in Farrell’s starting XV during this year’s Six Nations after Kelleher sustained the first of two recent shoulder issues.
“At the start of my season, coming to New Zealand for a summer tour was definitely one of my main goals,” said Sheehan, who is set to win his eighth international cap.
“With all of the history that is here, how hard it is to win here, it’s something special that we get to have a crack at the All Blacks at their own ground.
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“It builds it up itself, I think. Any All Blacks game is going to be a massive game and it’s going to build up in your mind.
“I can’t wait to get out and play a bit more rugby and see how we go over the next few weeks.”
New Zealand have not played since losing to France in Paris, a week after their humbling at the Aviva Stadium.
“There is obviously still scar tissue – you’d be silly not to think about last year,” said All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith, quoted by stuff.co.nz.
“But that was eight, nine months ago. There are a lot of hungry people on the bus ready to put their best foot forward.”