Line-out offers Ireland best chance
BT Sport 2 & eir Sport, 8pm
Ireland have recorded one milestone this year with a first victory in South Africa, but their wait to take the prized scalp of world champions New Zealand looks set to go on.
A total of 28 matches between the two over 111 years have resulted in 27 All Black wins and one draw – in 1973. Ireland came closest to victory two years ago when they were edged 24-22 thanks to a last-gasp try, but they are 23-point underdogs for this evening’s showdown in Chicago.
A 37-10 success over Australia a fortnight ago was a record 18th consecutive win for New Zealand, and over that long run the average score has been 42-14, while the All Blacks have outgunned opponents by 104 tries to 18, an average of 6-1.
There were two points in it the last time the teams met, but 60 points separated them in the match before that and a lot will come down to how New Zealand approach the occasion in an unfamiliar environment and with a shuffled team.
Steve Hansen has made six changes to the side that beat Australia last time out, including the return of scrum-half Aaron Smith, and although the huge depth of playing talent in New Zealand means they can pretty much rotate at will and still field a starting 15 that is the envy of the rest of the world, one area where they may be vulnerable is in the line-out, where they are without three first-choice locks.
Hansen has highlighted Ireland’s kicking game, spearheaded by Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton, as a key weapon, and it looks likely that the Irish will kick for territory and take on the All Blacks there.
The recent law change that allows the ball to be handed back in a driving maul has seen hookers play a bigger part in line-out drives so Ireland skipper Rory Best looks a decent shout to get on the scoresheet at 13-2.
Otherwise it looks set to be a tough workout for the Irish, and while a handicap bet at odds-on doesn’t appeal given how widely the scoreline has varied in recent clashes, 3-1 about a win by 11 to 20 points is a more than acceptable speculative punt.
New Zealand to win by 11 to 20 points
1pt 3-1 Paddy Power
R Best to score a try
1pt 13-2 Paddy Power