Test series decider, the ideal preparation for the World Cup

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Donal Lenihan believes Saturday’s decisive match between Ireland and New Zealand is the perfect testing ground for Andy Farrell’s side ahead of next year’s World Cup.

A week after winning their first-ever Test match in New Zealand, Ireland will look to seal a famous series victory this Saturday, when the sides meet at Sky Stadium in Wellington.

Fortunes have changed dramatically for tourists in recent days. After defeats to the Maori All Blacks and then to New Zealand in the first week of the tour, some have suggested Ireland are set to lose all five games of their summer trip under it.

However, last week’s historic win over the All Blacks was followed by an impressive second-team victory yesterday over Maori.

And although New Zealand remain favorites to clinch the series this weekend, they are a far cry from the consensus of 10 days ago, with huge question marks surrounding their head coach Ian Foster.

Ireland boss Farrell said whatever the outcome of the tiebreak, their tour has been a huge learning experience, especially with a World Cup just over 12 months away.

And former captain Lenihan says the challenge Ireland will face at the Cake Tin will be the perfect replica of what they are likely to face at the World Cup next year.

“It’s the kind of challenge [needed]“, he said on the RTÉ Rugby podcast.

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“If you want to win a World Cup, you have to win a quarter-final, a semi-final and a final, three weekends in a row. You couldn’t have a better challenge in terms of having to save what they did it against New Zealand last week and will do it again next week.

“This is where you will really learn where this Irish team is at.”

Saturday’s defeat for the All Blacks was their third loss in four games dating back to last November, with the pressure on head coach Foster and his senior squad members increasing by the day.

On previous occasions where Ireland have beaten New Zealand, the All Blacks’ response has always been to step up physically, but Lenihan believes their poor recent disciplinary record means that this approach will be dangerous for the hosts.

“When we won in Chicago, two weeks later in Dublin it was brutal, when we won in 2018 in Dublin, the World Cup quarter-final was brutal. Every time we beat them, they came back and had a huge physique, but I think the referees are watching them now.

“They’ve crossed the mark and are under the microscope. The referees are talking to each other.”

And although the former Ireland captain believes Ireland have a strong chance of securing their biggest series win, particularly if the All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock remains unavailable, he believes the task may prove too daunting for him. Triple Crown winners.

“If Sam Whitelock (below) starts, that’s a game-changer. If he doesn’t, maybe I’ll come back to Ireland.

“There’s nothing in it, New Zealand are favorites but I’m not ruling out Ireland in any form. I think they are capable of putting in a back-to-back performance.

“It all looks like New Zealand are going to win. There’s going to be a reaction, I think their team will be stronger, but I’m not ruling out Ireland. They’ve been so consistent in terms of performance. The conditions could well make a lottery of the game. We’ve seen in all the games that there have been cards, that’s just the nature of the way the game is played now.

“You would have to think that New Zealand will respond and they don’t want to lose a Test series here. They already have the shame, if you will, of being the first team to lose a Test match against Ireland. at home, but there is incredible pressure on Ian Foster and his coaching staff but also on the senior players. Sam Cane’s captaincy is in question, his place in the team is in question.

“That pressure can implode if Ireland can put them under the same pressure they have been under for the past few weeks.

“I think New Zealand will probably win but I refuse to rule out Ireland because I just felt that all last week there would be a performance in them. Mentally that’s the biggest test. Can they still improve their game Can they improve it the extra 10% they will need to win.

“From this point of view, I am fascinated.”

Listen to the RTÉ Rugby podcast on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow Ireland’s Third Test against New Zealand via our live blogs at rte.ie/sport and on the RTÉ News app or listen to live radio commentary on RTÉ 2fm (8.05am)

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