Three things to look for in Ireland v New Zealand rugby Test

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Ireland will be able to gauge where they stand under coach Andy Farrell two years out from the World Cup by playing New Zealand on Saturday at Lansdowne Road.

The Irish 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.

AFP Sport picks out three things for Saturday's encounter:

- Sexton could do without another scar -

Johnny Sexton says past losses to the All Blacks left scars that took a long time to heal so he hopes to emerge unscathed by Saturday evening.

The 36-year-old playmaker has been pivotal in Ireland's only two victories, in 2016 and 2018, over the All Blacks.

However, the 46-14 Rugby World Cup quarter-final thumping and the 24-22 loss in 2013, when the Irish came agonisingly close to securing their first ever victory over the All Blacks, left their mark.

Sexton, as ever his own greatest critic, chided himself on Tuesday over a missed penalty when the Irish led 22-17.

"Yes there have been a lot of scars for me against the All Blacks," he said.

"In 2013 where we missed out by so little and I had a shot to put us two scores clear 8-9 minutes before the final whistle.

"That was a huge scar for me and took a long time to get over."

Sexton's remedy?

"You learn from it and bounce back from it."

- Inside knowledge -

Both sides will have 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 best friends 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 15.

"I can't wait for next weekend."

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.

- Sexton and Barrett a duel for the ages -

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 -- fly-halves Johnny Sexton and Beauden Barrett.

They have more than their position in common -- although Barrett has played equally well at full-back 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.


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