All Blacks: Sexton and Ireland present huge challenge

No-one could know it at the time but Ireland's relationship with the All Blacks changed irrevocably in November of 2013.

All Blacks: Sexton and Ireland present huge challenge

No-one could know it at the time but Ireland's relationship with the All Blacks changed irrevocably in November of 2013.

That's regardless of the fact that a Ryan Crotty try and an Aaron Cruden conversion pulled victory out of the fire for the visitors that day in Dublin.

The four games played between the sides prior to that had been lost by an average margin of 28.75 points.

When they met in Hamilton in the summer of 2012 New Zealand won 60-0. Now Ireland approach their World Cup quarter-final having won two of the last three games.

The points difference across the last four meetings stands at +4 in the Six Nations side's favour.

Only four Irishmen started that quartet of games. Devin Toner, Rory Best and Rob Kearney are three of them, Jonathan Sexton is the other.

The current world player of the year, Sexton is the man who makes Ireland tick and everyone know it.

His importance has only become clearer in Japan with performances against Scotland, Russia and Samoa and, more so, his absence through injury for the loss to Japan which has presented Ireland with a World Cup quarter-final against the Kiwis this week.

Many an opposing player and coach has been asked before about whether it was their intention to 'rattle' the Irish ten whose habit of playing so close to the line, added to his abilities and importance, make him such a juicy target for the big hit.

Matt Todd, the Crusaders back row was isn't expected to start in Tokyo this week, put it succinctly when suggesting that the plan of campaign with any opposition ten is to shrink their space and their time but that intentions and actions are two different things.

“Look, every team has got their strengths and weaknesses,” said assistant coach Ian Foster on Tuesday in Tokyo.

We know Sexton is important to their team and we know that a lot of the ball does go through his hands. That’s clear and obvious, everyone knows that.

“Look, they’re a smart rugby team and they’ve proven that. People can say what they like about their attacking style and defensive style but they’re efficient and they do it well. That’s what makes it really exciting for us because we’re playing a team that knows how to play and what greater challenge could you have?”

Foster was engaging when discussing Ireland in general but less forthcoming when asked about some of the individuals whose presence or absence could have a bearing on how this last eight knockout contest could go.

Nigel Owens' announcement as the man in the middle and the success Ireland assistant coach Andy Farrell has had against the All Blacks with three different teams both produced responses light on detail.

As did his reaction to the news that

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“My reaction to it?” he said. “I haven’t really got a reaction to it as I’m pretty much focused on what we do but it’s pretty consistent with (suspensions) we’ve seen at this tournament.”

RWC Podcast: Ireland in a good place but All Blacks built for knockout rugby

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