Tomorrow Ireland take on New Zealand in the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
While New Zealand are back-to-back champions, Ireland have never progressed past this stage of the competition.
The form of both sides has Ireland coming into the game as heavy underdogs despite a postive recent record against Steve Hansen’s side.
Ireland picked up their first-ever win over the All-Blacks in 2016 in Soldier Field before securing a first win over them on Irish soil in November of last year.
Yet, after a poor Six Nations, alongside a mixed series of warm-up games, few have given Ireland a chance on Saturday.
If Ireland are to overcome the World’s best, there are a couple of match-ups that they have to come out the right side of.
Peter O’Mahony v Ardie Savea
Peter O’Mahony captained the Lions in their opening test against the All-Blacks in 2017 after heading on the tour as an outsider to start any tests.
This was in the midst of arguably his most impressive run of form since he burst onto the scene at the start of the decade.
His best-ever performance in an Irish shirt came in the 2018 defeat of New Zealand in the Aviva, with O’Mahony everywhere on the pitch.
Between the 45th and 63rd minute alone O’Mahony turned over New Zealand ball twice and intercepted a certain try.
However, his form at this World Cup has been questioned and many were calling for Rhys Ruddock’s inclusion on Saturday in O’Mahony’s place.
Yet, it is for certain that the Munster man’s workrate won’t be lacking on Saturday as he comes head to head with one of the world’s best in Ardie Savea.
The Hurricanes’ back-rower is extremely dynamic and a nightmare matchup for most.
Mahony will have his hands full against his opposite number but will not shirk his responsibility.
Moreover, his lineout expertise will also be needed with the return of specialist Brodie Retallick for the All-Blacks.
But, O’Mahony will relish these challenges and is rarely found wanting in moments like this.
Conor Murray v Aaron Smith
People may differ in choosing between these two but on Saturday the best scrum-halves in the world will go head to head.
While 2019 hasn’t been his best year in terms of form, there is no doubting Murray’s elite skillset.
Blessed with height, strength and speed, Murray has all the attributes of an unstoppable scrum-half.
His box-kicking, although it can be excessive, is unrivaled as he and Sexton control Ireland’s play.
Injury has halted his year but Saturday will provide him with the chance to showcase his worth.
The sight of Aaron Smith, widely regarded as the World’s best number 9, has often spurred Murray on, such have been his performances against the All-Blacks.
In 2016 he scored a beauty off the back of a ruck sniping through the All-Blacks defence before repeating the trick for the Lions a year later.
Them tries added to his previous pair of efforts against New Zealand with Murray proving his potency when the world’s best are the opposition.
That sniping ability has been eerliy absent from Murray’s game in recent times but if Ireland are to move into the last four for the first time then they will need the Limerick man operating at his very best.
Rob Kearney v Beauden Barrett
Although there was some speculation that Jordan Larmour would be selected to start at full back this weekend, Joe Schmidt instead opted for the tried and trusted in Rob Kearney.
To be fair to the Leinster no.15 his form in recent times has been positive as he has already touched down for a pair of tries in the tournament already.
Yet, while Larmour is expressively creative in his play, Kearney is far more reserved but also more reliable.
His importance is more to do with his direct opponent on Saturday.
Starting at 15 for the All Blacks is Beauden Barrett, a two time World Player of the Year as he forms part of a New Zealand backline with two main playmakers with Richie Mo’unga starting at 10.
Barrett is the best open field runner in World Rugby and from full back he will have the license to attack.
To ensure Barrett doesn’t have this opportunity, it is imperative that Kearney is switched on defensively.