New Zealand head coach Ian Foster is clearly relishing the prospect of a different type of Test, in every sense, than they've experienced so far in another hugely successful year.
Comparing this end-of-season block of five games to a five-game schedule at the end of the Rugby Championship when they signed off with two games against South Africa, this time they do so away to Ireland and France in packed stadia.
“We’ve been able to plan accordingly around that,” he said, after reverting to all but one of the side which beat Wales a fortnight ago. “Am I excited about our preparedness? Yes, I am. I think we’re as ready as we can be for this game and we’re certainly not lacking in any motivation.
“These are the big stages that we seek and as a team I think we’re still developing, we’re still growing in what we want to do and these are the games you put a marker down and get some of the answers about where we’re at in some respects.”
While the All Blacks handsomely won the last meeting in the World Cup, their 2018 defeat in Dublin was his reference point. "We love playing here at the Aviva Stadium. We respect the attitude up here.
“The relevance of ’18 is that we don’t like losing but what we’ve learned and we’ve felt this before with teams up here is that they’ve got excitable crowds that get behind their team and feed off any sense of any weakness or hesitation in visiting teams, and we’ve got an Irish team that’s going to try to put us under a lot of pressure.
“The fact that the Aviva hasn’t been full too many times in the last two years with Covid and all that means that the noise levels, which would normally be at 100 per cent, are probably going to be at 110 per cent, if there’s such a thing.”
Having said earlier this week that he had been interested by Ireland’s progress over the last while, Foster expanded further on the development he has seen under Andy Farrell, although maintained that the legacies established under Joe Schmidt remain in place.
“Ireland have got some characteristics themselves as a team over the last five or six years that haven’t changed. They’re well organised, they’re physical, they clearly understand their roles and they play accordingly.
I think that aspect hasn’t changed and that’s a positive about Irish rugby.
“I think they’ve been a quality team this year and getting better but I think what we are seeing is probably an expansion and an ambition with what they want to do with the ball, and they seem to be more at ease about taking opportunities wider and being comfortable playing like that. Credit to them and it just means you’ve got to open your eyes and be aware that they’ve got more threats in attack than perhaps they would have had 24 months ago.”
Foster declined to speculate on whether any of the three New Zealand-born players in the Irish team might, or might not, have made the All Blacks had they not moved.
“All I’m going to say is I guess they’re Kiwis in one sense but they’re Irish now, so I don’t really want to talk too much about the opposition. They’re three people that have made a decision, they play for Ireland and what will be and what could have been it’s almost irrelevant.
“Nowadays the rules are the rules and those three like a number of others have made decisions and those three have made a decision to be Irish, so there’s not much point in speculating in whether they would have been good enough to make it in New Zealand or not. I don’t really want to spend any time on that because they’re the ones that made the call.”
NEW ZEALAND: Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sevu Reece; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Ethan Blackadder, Dalton Papali'i, Ardie Savea.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax, Tupou Vaa'i, Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo'unga, David Havili.