Month of internationals will offer guide to which side can provide New Zealand with biggest challenge in Japan next year
New Zealand (World ranking: 1 Points: 92.96): New Zealand are like a machine, mowing down all who stand in their way, but their blades get tangled occasionally, as they did against South Africa. It was another day when they did not go through the gears but engaged top immediately; they tend to be more strategic in Europe, getting a game won before indulging themselves. After what should be a weekend frolic in Japan, they face England and Ireland in consecutive weeks, two of their main World Cup rivals. The two games will provide greater World Cup preparation than next year’s Rugby Championship, a tournament the All Blacks have come to dominate but have not won in a World Cup year since 2007. Armed with their strongest available squad, England will be the warm-up for the breakdown-savvy Ireland.
Ireland (World ranking: 2 Points: 90.12): The match of the month promises to be in Dublin on 17 November when the All Blacks roll up. It was fiercely contested when the teams met there two years ago, three weeks after Ireland had beaten the World Cup holders in Chicago; New Zealand needed a late try and conversion to win in 2013, five months after a late Dan Carter drop goal had earned them victory in Christchurch. Ireland’s capacity to hustle and retain possession has flustered a team used to getting their own way, but they will miss their Lions’ scrum-half Conor Murray. Ireland, like Leinster, have perfected a way of playing but need to stay ahead in a game evolving at pace.
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