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Ireland to face formidable All Blacks challenge; Kilkenny embrace underdogs role

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

It’s been 48 matches and 28 years since New Zealand last lost at Eden Park. That is the scale of the task facing Ireland as they play the All Blacks on Saturday morning (8.05am, Sky Sports). Gerry Thornley writes there’s a sense of something special brewing as this near 50,000 sell-out first Test looms into view. Head coach Andy Farrell said Ireland would need to be more accurate in taking opportunities. “Like I’ve always said every time you play against the All Blacks, you’ve got to score points. If you get the opportunity, you’ve got to be clinical.” Meanwhile, former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt renewed some old acquaintances in his home city of Auckland this week at the Irish team hotel. Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says Schmidt is the one “who made us believe we could beat the All Blacks”.

In today’s Subscriber Only piece, Joe Canning writes that Kilkenny are in the perfect place for an ambush. Giving his assessment of the two teams in advance of the semi-final, he writes: “Overall, I’m just not fully convinced by Clare. Whereas Kilkenny come into this in the perfect position. They are underdogs, which they will be both delighted and annoyed by.” In the other semi-final he says the reality is Galway “need to do everything right and they need Limerick to have an off-day. Otherwise, there’s really only one outcome possible.” Gearoid Hegarty is looking for the positives as Limerick return to action after four-week break, as he feels the rest will have done the Treaty County well. Meanwhile in Gaelic football, Galway captain Seán Kelly is expected to contest a proposed suspension for “contributing to a melee” in advance of semi-final against Derry.

After the first day of the Irish Open, New Zealander Ryan Fox trots into a one-shot lead at Mount Juliet, with Séamus Power and Niall Kearney the best of the Irish as Shane Lowry rescues a bad situation. Fox has a wager with Shane Lowry on the outcome of New Zealand’s rugby match against Ireland. Lowry managed to negotiate a 10-point handicap in Ireland’s favour for the first of three Tests against the All Blacks. Kearney is determined to play his card to maximum effect despite rough deal where he is sitting on a worse card than guys that played really badly last year.

Johnny Watterson writes about Serena Williams, an icon’s last waltz, as the 40-year-old went down early at Wimbledon this year. He writes: “For the first time in her career and maybe the last time in her life, Serena Williams walked on to Centre Court on Tuesday evening and the cheering was sympathetic, encouraging, a softening of feeling towards the best women’s tennis player in the history of the sport.” At Wimbledon, a qualifier almost trips world number one Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon but her winning run has extended to 37 with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Lesley Kerkhove.

The Women’s European Championships kicks off at Old Trafford next Wednesday, with every game will be shown live on RTÉ2. Lisa Fallon writes the money is getting serious, as is the scrutiny created by additional coverage, and technically and tactically the sport is delivering truly elite competition. She writes the teams to watch are Norway, Spain and France. Four Airtricity League games are on tonight and Bohemians are keen to start turning draws to wins against Derry, as league leaders Shamrock Rovers go to Donegal to face Finn Harps.