As New Zealand and Ireland prepare for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final tonight, the All Blacks have emerged as the underdogs to many spectators.
That’s according to Off the Ball Reporter Aisling O’Reilly ahead of tonight’s match at 8pm at Stade de France.
Ireland has never made it past the quarter-final in the Rugby World Cup – but many feel confident this could be Ireland’s chance at success.
Aisling told The Anton Savage Show she attended the Al Blacks press conference and found the team “very respectful”.
“They say that Ireland deserves to be the number one team,” she said.
“One thing that struck me that they knew all of the Irish players’ name, they knew everything about them, when I don’t think that was the case.
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She said the All Blacks are “maybe” getting used to being the underdogs in rugby.
“They said they don't see themselves as that, but I think going into this game, maybe slightly they are.
“The All Blacks as underdogs is a very frightening idea.”
'Not a challenge, but an opportunity'
Among the Irish team, Aisling said you can see the “nerves building” - but to the players, it’s not a “challenge, but an opportunity”.
“This is where they've always wanted to be, growing up watching Ireland, now here they are in the World Cup quarter-final against the Al Blacks, 17 games unbeaten,” she said.
“I feel that they did a lot of work on the mental side of the game.”
— Henry McKean (@HenryMcKean) October 13, 2023
The team is also bolstered by recoveries from injuries during the week, according to Aisling.
“Mack Hansen came through the Captain’s Run okay yesterday, they’re saying he has no issues,” she said.
“We're very hopeful that he will be able to take the field.
“James Ryan is back with the squad having returned home for special treatment... if we were to get through today, he would look good for next week.”
Robbie Henshaw trained with the team yesterday and Keith Earls is continuing to rehab his hamstring.
“We’re rearing to go,” Aisling said.
Sexton's last stand?
If Ireland lose this match, this could be Captain Johnny Sexton’s last game on the Irish team, and Aisling said people are trying to keep that fact “at the back of their minds”.
“His game has come on even further in this World Cup,” she said.
“38 years of age, his fourth World Cup, and he is so important to the team.
“Johnny is like another coach out on the field – he just loves the game and they constantly learn from him.
“[The team] have spoken about doing it for him, wanting to get the wins for Johnny to have more games in this World Cup.”