DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton believes Saturday’s home test against New Zealand will be a good gauge of where his side stand under coach Joe Schmidt and the progress they have made in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup in Japan.
Ireland claimed an historic 40-29 victory over the world champions in Chicago in 2016, but two weeks later were beaten 21-9 in Dublin and are still waiting for a first home victory over the All Blacks in 113 years of trying.
Sexton said the players were determined to create another piece of history for themselves as they look to topple the number one side in the world.
“You can’t say it’s just another game,” he told reporters on Monday. “These are the big games that you do all the work for and the practice for.
“Over the years we have ticked off little bits of history, winning in Argentina and South Africa, and beating New Zealand for the first time.
“So to beat them in Ireland will be another piece of history that this group can create and it’s something you don’t want to let pass by.”
This will be just the third time the Irish have played New Zealand in the six seasons that Schmidt has been in charge and is the best barometer of their progress according to Sexton.
“They have all been tough, close games. They don’t come along all that often with the way the seasons are structured now,” he said.
“We want to make the most of it and see where we are really. It’s been two years since we played them last and there has been a lot change in our team. Probably eight guys who played that day won’t play in our team this week.
“It’s been a big change from our point of view, but we are looking forward to seeing how far we have come in the last two years and where we are in the world.”
Ireland have made a winning start to the November international series with a 54-7 success over Italy in Chicago and a hard-fought 28-17 victory against Argentina in Dublin.
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)