What a week it has been, and the Test series is still a day away.

Between injuries and Covid-19, both Ireland and New Zealand are looking a bit different to what we would have predicted seven days ago, but it doesn't make the series look any les intriguing.

Even with the All Blacks dealing with a chaotic week of preparations following their Covid-19 outbreak, the three-time world champions remain firm favourites to win the first Test, as well as the series.

Andy Farrell's side may have won three of the last five meetings between the sides, but history is weighted towards the hosts, who are unbeaten on home soil against Ireland.

And just to make the task even tougher, Eden Park is the venue this weekend, where the All Blacks haven't lost for 46 games, a run dating back to 1994.

Joe Schmidt's arrival into the All Blacks camp has only added to the narrative, having been drafted in along with legendary scrum coach Mike Cron to help deal with their growing list of Covid cases.

Wednesday's humbling defeat for Ireland's second string against the Maori All Blacks has also dampened expectations around Ireland's chances in the series, and although just one of that team will start again on Saturday (Keith Earls), their system failures in defence and discipline will need to be ironed out fast if they're to stand a chance of a history-making win.


Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Action will be showing live coverage from Eden Park, getting under way at 7.30am.


Listen to live commentary on RTÉ 2fm.


RTE.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app will have have a live blog of the game, as well as a match report and post match reaction.


It's expected to be a perfect night for rugby in Auckland with no rain, little wind and temperatures of around 10C.

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It speaks volumes to the depth of talent in New Zealand that when Super Rugby's joint-top tryscorer Will Jordan was forced out of the squad due to Covid-19, Ian Foster was simply able to call upon the other joint-top tryscorer Leicester Fainga'anuku.

The Crusaders wing is one of two players set for their All Blacks debuts against Ireland with versatile forward Pita Gus Sowakula among the replacements.

And although New Zealand are missing the likes of Anton Lienert-Brown and Nepo Laulala to injury, as well as David Havili and Jack Goodhue to Covid, their team still contains frightening talent and experience.

The three Barrett brothers all start, with Scott named at blindside flanker, alongside Sam Cane and Ardie Savea in the back row, to complete a powerful forward pack.

There was also an interesting call made in the Irish team at 6 with Peter O'Mahony getting the jersey over Jack Conan, a nod to the importance that Farrell sees in the lineout and breakdown this weekend.

Of the experienced starting line-up, all bar Robbie Henshaw had some involvement in last season's meeting between the pair at the Aviva Stadium, but it's on the bench that Ireland seem thin.

Cian Healy has been named among the replacements and came through this morning's captain's run with no adverse reaction to what looked like a serious ankle injury suffered on Wednesday.

Should that change before kick-off, it would mean Tom O'Toole is drafted in for just his third cap, while Dave Heffernan and Kieran Treadwell are both in line to face New Zealand for the very first time.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Cian Healy, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Bundee Aki.

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Sevu Reece, Rieki Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, Leicester Fainga'anuku; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; George Bower, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu'ungafasi; Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock; Scott Barrett, Sam Cane (capt), Ardie Savea.

Replacements: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Angus Ta'avao, Pita Gus Sowakula, Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie, Richie Mo'unga, Braydon Ennor.

Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)

Assistant Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

Assistant Referee: Jordan Way (RA)

TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (SARU)


Andy Farrell (Ireland head coach): "I know they've one or two injuries and so have we but, at the same time, they could pick four teams in New Zealand and they would be unbelievably hard to compete against.

"We’re under no illusions of what we’re up against. Any type of performance that we’ve had before where we’ve managed to get over the line, that won’t do this weekend, I’m sure about that."

Ian Foster (New Zealand head coach): "We feel like we've been away from home for a long time as an All Black team, so to play in front of our friends and families here is something we are looking forward to.

"It's a great series for us. We like the pressure of this series. I've said for the last couple of months, I think it is ideal for us."

Elsewhere, it's a packed day on the Test circuit, starting at 7am Irish time when Japan host Six Nations champions France in the first of their two-Test series. At 11am, the Wallabies and England meet in Perth in their series opener, before world champions South Africa take on Wales in Pretoria at 6pm. Argentina and Scotland round off the day's Tier 1 action when they meet in Jujuy at 8.10pm.