Former Chiefs finisher James Lowe will line up for Ireland against some of his “best friends” after the All Blacks perform the haka at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Ireland have built up momentum with six successive Test wins but with due respect to the sides they beat – including England and Scotland – it is performances against the All Blacks that offer a more accurate barometer of progress made.
Both sides will got into Saturday’s with participants they hope bring inside knowledge on opposing players.
The Irish have New Zealand-born trio Bundee Aki, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson Park and the All Blacks assistant coaches John Plumtree and Greg Feek were involved with Ireland under Andy Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt.
Lowe cannot wait to get out onto the pitch on Saturday and cross swords with some of his teammates from his days in New Zealand.
“Some of my best friends are starters in that All Blacks team,” said the 29-year-old winger. “I went to school with two or three of them, I played with a few of them when they were younger, and now they speak for themselves in the XV.
“I can’t wait.”
Plumtree spent just one year in the Ireland set-up in 2013-14 and is unconvinced how much of a role knowing players on opposing sides can play.
“They’ll have a little bit of knowledge from what they’ve seen and maybe a little bit of history on some individuals, but, ultimately, at the end of the day, our plan is our plan and they won’t know it,” said Plumtree.
Meanwhile, there is no better remedy for warming up a cold November day at Lansdowne Road than a duel between two of the greats to have played Test rugby – flyhalves Johnny Sexton and Beauden Barrett.
They have more than their position in common, although Barrett has played equally well at fullback as he did in the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Both recently reached the 100 Test cap for their country landmark and have also been crowned world player of the year – Barrett twice (2016/17) and Sexton once (2018).
However, while even at 36 Sexton remains the undisputed number one for Ireland, Barrett is battling with Richie Mo’unga for the starting spot.
They are not short of praise for each other either with Sexton on Tuesday describing 30-year-old Barrett as a “freak of a runner” and the latter saying his Irish opponent was “all class.”
The pressure is no less on such experienced shoulders, though, and Sexton will look for an equally effective performance running with the ball from his backs as they showed against Japan.
Barrett, for his part, will seek to show head coach Ian Foster that he is still the All Blacks’ master puppeteer.
Ireland – 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Keith Earls
Coach: Andy Farrell (ENG)
New Zealand – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sevu Reece, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 David Havili
Coach: Ian Foster (NZL)
Referee: Luke Pearce (ENG)
© Agence France-Presse