Johne Murphy breaks down how Ireland can hope to stop the all conquering All Blacks
Maybe Chicago might be more interested in what happened in Game Seven of the World Series, but Ireland will be purely focused on the chance to make history on Saturday in Solider field.
The daunting task of trying to end the 18-game winning streak the All Blacks are on awaits, but it's one that Ireland will relish. For Joe Schmidt and his team, it is much more than just trying to end the streak, it is an opportunity to go down in Irish Rugby folklore.
Not only is that winning streak impressive, but the amount of tries they're scoring is jaw-dropping. So far in 2016 they have averaged six tries per game, which means Saturday will be all about Ireland's defensive effort. I believe that the focus for this Irish side should not necessarily be attempting to shut the All Blacks out, but attempting to concede significantly less then that frightening average.
World rugby in the last few years has started to shift in terms of where tries originate from. The lineout has taken over as the main supplier of tries, with turnover, kick return and return following closely behind. In last year's Champions Cup, turnover and kick return overtook the scrum as the primary source of ball to score tries.
The All Blacks have excelled in these two areas in the last year, with turnover and kick return being the top two sources of their tries. Their transition into attack from defense on turnover and/or kick return is second to none.
Image: New Zealand's Julian Savea celebrates his try against Australia with Israel Dagg ©INPHO/Photosport
On top of this, nearly 60% of New Zealand's tries come from within three phases of when they have received the ball. Ireland need to try and find a way to have a lock downthat lasts for those phases on every possession their opponents have, especially turnover and kick return.
People might think I’m crazy trying to bring the All Blacks to a multi-phase game, but this is where Ireland need to go. If Steve Hansen's side are let offload and not brought to rucks, they have the potential to run riot on Ireland.
The input from Andy Farrell this summer on the tour to South Africa has added to the work Les Kiss began. Ireland brought more line speed in the middle of the park, and were softer on the edges. Visually, it may have looked as though the home side were making inroads there, but in reality they were very rarely crossing the gain line.
Image: Ireland’s Rory Best talks to the team after the first Test against South Africa in Capetown ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Bringing more line speed from the number 2 out to say the 5 or 6 in the defensive line enables the outside backs to taper and use the touchlines more successfully, while not actually giving away gain line.
Ireland need to drag the All Blacks in to rucks and stop their offload game; to use this line speed to push the All Blacks to an edge and really go after the wider breakdowns. They also need to be selective in what breakdowns they go after.
It is not possible to go after every single one, but when the Irish back row sense a soft ruck, they will have to capitalise, and do so quickly. This is obviously easier said than done, but having 13 men on their feet at all times will help Ireland go some way to achieving this.
Having played against two Joe Schmidt teams myself, both Clermont and Leinster, I have no doubt he will have an attacking game plan that will aim to sniff out any weakness that New Zealand may have. His power plays and his structure will enable Ireland to hold on to the ball in an attempt to frustrate them.
People may have issues with the lack of offloads Ireland throw, but on Saturday that will be something that can - hopefully - starve Hansen's side of one of their primary sources of tries. If there are turnovers, then Ireland's transition from attack to defense must match, if not better, the opposite transition from the All Blacks, as they move from defense to attack. Again, the three-phase lock down will help them accomplish this goal.
It is a big task ahead of Ireland, but a task that each and every man pulling on that green jersey will relish. As a professional rugby player, these are the games you want to play in. Every player past and present wishes they were taking the field in Chicago this Saturday, with the chance to make (or break) history on the line.
Newstalk's Alan Quinlan and Oisin Langan look ahead to the crunch clash against the All Blacks in Chicago.