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The All Blacks open their 2022 Test campaign with a clash against an Irish team who have developed into one of the fiercest rivals of the men in black over the past decade.

Match details: All Blacks v Ireland, Saturday 2 July, 7.05pm NZT, Eden Park, Auckland
Played: 33
Won: All Blacks 29, Ireland 3, Drawn 1
Last time: All Blacks 20, Ireland 29 (13 November 2021)
Referee: Karl Dickson

Since the 20-23 loss to France in 1994, the All Blacks have seen off 45 opponents, with only two draws, to establish Eden Park as a genuine fortress and one of the most vaunted stadiums in the world for visiting sides. Ireland have picked up three wins against the All Blacks in the past 5 Tests played between the sides – with all three wins coming outside of New Zealand (two in Ireland and one in USA). If Ireland prevail at Eden Park on Saturday, it will mark their first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand and break the All Blacks 28-year unbeaten streak at the ground.

One of the biggest talking points of the All Blacks match-day 23 is the selection of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker for the first time since the semifinal loss to England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Coach Ian Foster said World Cup lessons were absorbed a long time ago, and management was clear about their strategy. “We feel he can do it, he is one of the form players of Super Rugby in the last four to six weeks, he’s on top of his game.” As well as Barrett’s acumen in set-piece play, he brought a bruising defensive game and was probably the side’s most dynamic ball-carrying lock Foster said.

Crusaders sensation Leicester Fainga’anuku will become All Black number 1,200 when he runs onto Eden Park in the number 11 jersey on Saturday. The 110kg flyer was a key cog in the Crusaders 2022 Super Rugby Pacific title victory and will have fond memories of Eden Park following his impressive display in the Grand Final against the Blues. Dynamic Chiefs loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula is poised to take his place as All Black number 1,201 from the bench. Sowakula shone for the Chiefs with his damaging ball running, hard tackling and high work rate around the park.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell said he expected his Test players would have watched and learned from the side’s 32-17 loss to the Māori All Blacks in Hamilton on Wednesday. “In all, I think it’s a good day for us in regards to the lads learning lessons and knowing that if we fix a few things, especially discipline-wise, we can give a better account of ourselves in the next game,” Farrell said.

Although unable to be with the team physically this week due to Covid-19 isolation, Head Coach Ian Foster had helped the team from afar and was looking forward to the opening clash of 2022 at a sold-out Eden Park. “After what seems like a long time away from home, it couldn’t be scripted better to be back in front of our fans for this match,” Foster said. “Whilst this week hasn’t exactly gone to plan for us, our overall preparation has gone really well. We have huge respect for this Irish team and can’t wait to run out onto a packed Eden Park on Saturday to kick off the 2022 Steinlager series.”

TEAMS (caps in brackets, * denotes debut):
All Blacks:
1. George Bower (11) 2. Codie Taylor (66) 3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (44) 4. Brodie Retallick (92) 5. Samuel Whitelock (132) 6. Scott Barrett (48) 7. Sam Cane (77) – Captain 8. Ardie Savea (59) 9. Aaron Smith (102) 10. Beauden Barrett (101) 11. Leicester Fainga’anuku* (0) 12. Quinn Tupaea (7) 13. Rieko Ioane (47) 14. Sevu Reece (17) 15. Jordie Barrett (36)
RESERVES: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho (9) 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe (25) 18. Angus Ta’avao (20) 19. Pita Gus Sowakula* (0) 20. Dalton Papalii (12) 21. Finlay Christie (5) 22. Richie Mo’unga (32) 23. Braydon Ennor (4)

1. Andrew Porter 2. Dan Sheehan 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Tadhg Beirne 5. James Ryan 6. Peter O’Mahony 7. Josh van der Flier 8. Caelan Doris 9. Jamison Gibson Park 10. Johnny Sexton (c) 11. James Lowe 12. Robbie Henshaw 13. Garry Ringrose 14. Keith Earls 15. Hugo Keenan
RESERVES: 16. Dave Heffernan 17. Finlay Bealham 18. Cian Healy 19. Kieran Treadwell 20. Jack Conan 21. Conor Murray 22. Joey Carbery 23. Bundee Aki

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