Rugby-NZ out to reassert ascendancy over Ireland in Auckland

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Autumn International - Ireland v New Zealand - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - November 13, 2021 New Zealand players perform the haka before the match REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

(Reuters) - New Zealand will look to brush off a preparatory week disrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad and reassert their ascendancy over Ireland in Saturday's first test of their July series at fortress Eden Park.

Two defeats at the end of last year's November tour of Europe, one to the Irish in Dublin, had All Blacks fans jittery and nothing less than a clean sweep of the series is likely to offer complete job security for coach Ian Foster.

Foster, along with three of his assistant coaches and three players, spent the week in isolation after an outbreak in the camp but he knows the nation believes he still has the depth of talent at his disposal to see off the Irish.

Ireland have won three of their last five tests against the All Blacks but never tasted victory against their hosts on New Zealand soil.

They arrived looking to test themselves against the best and a young experimental side got a taste of the power and pace of New Zealand rugby in a 32-17 loss to the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Coach Andy Farrell will expect a more disciplined performance from his side when more experienced players run out on Saturday but must have been concerned at the way the Irish were bossed at the breakdown at Waikato Stadium.

Foster indicated his intent to take the Irish on up front when he named lock Scott Barrett at blindside flanker in favour of more mobile options.

That triggered more jitters among All Blacks fans as the last time Barrett played in the number six shirt was the 2019 World Cup semi-final loss to England.

"We know he can do it," Foster told reporters by video on Thursday. "Is it going to be perfect? There may be a few teething issues, but we’ve got a lot of faith in Scott ... and we’re looking forward to seeing it unfold."

As well as a formidable pack, the Irish will face the skills of Beauden Barrett at flyhalf and the latest powerful outside back off the production line in the shape of new cap Leicester Fainga'anuku.

Farrell, who has turned to an experienced core in a team captained by flyhalf Johnny Sexton, said the Irish were under no illusions about the challenge they faced.

"They could pick four teams in New Zealand and they would be unbelievably hard to compete against," he told reporters in Auckland.

"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."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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