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Ireland embraces the ‘chance of a lifetime’ in decider vs NZ

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – For Ireland, today’s deciding third test against the All Blacks represents a “chance of a lifetime”.

For the first time, the team finds itself in a position to secure a series over the All Blacks. Charged with confidence after a first-ever test win in New Zealand last weekend, Ireland can feel the pull of history.

The All Blacks in contrast have done their best in a turbulent week to shut out the torrent of criticism which followed their second-test loss and to present a bold face. To do anything else but project calm and determination would likely only make Ireland more certain it has the All Blacks on the ropes.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane said today’s test would be “a good challenge”.

Head coach Ian Foster said the All Blacks “love these occasions”.

Backrower Ardie Savea said he and his teammates “love being written off”.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton leads his team. PHOTO: AP

In reality, no amount of false bravado can disguise the pressure the All Blacks are under or stave off the consequences which would flow from a loss today.

A year out from the World Cup, New Zealand is grappling with an unprecedented form slump.

Its loss last Saturday was its third in its last four tests, its fourth to Ireland in their last seven meetings and it has dropped to fourth place on world rankings, its lowest spot since records began.

Failings that led to last weekend’s loss are familiar to All Blacks fans; lack of discipline, a shortage of fundamental handling skills, an under-developed kicking game and a lack of direction and common purpose.

Though those problems have recurred over the last few years in matches against England, Ireland, South Africa and France no measures taken by the All Blacks coaches have been able to correct them.

Despite those losses, the makeup of the All Blacks team has been remarkably stable and New Zealand Rugby has retained faith in Foster. All that might change if Ireland wins again today and public confidence in the team drops to a new low.

Foster mostly has shrugged off calls for his replacement, saying criticism goes with the job and “you get used to it”.

“Individually you go through the same emotions as the team,” Foster said. “When we don’t win there’s a lot of internal reflection on what we’re doing then you get into gear and start nailing the next week.

“That’s where I’m at. I can’t wait to play Ireland in Wellington.

“Everyone else is learning this is a high-quality team we’re playing against. This is a great examination for us. We’ve got to show we’re smart and learning as well.”

Ireland coach Andy Farrell may face an easier task than Foster in preparing his team for today’s match. Ireland already knows it has the ability if it plays well to beat the All Blacks and the importance of the match needs little explanation.

“We are making sure that everyone realises this is it,” Farrell said. “This is the game that we all want. It’s the chance of a lifetime, a massive occasion that we want to be able to deal with.

“It doesn’t get any tougher than this. New Zealand are at their best after a defeat.

“It’s where we want to be, the series on the line. It’s exactly where we want to be.”