Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

What lies ahead for the All Blacks

The All Blacks completed another perfect home season on Saturday and now they head to USA and Europe to finish the 2016 season. Chris Rattue breaks down the final four tests of the year as the All Blacks look to finish an impressive year in style.

Ireland, Soldier Field, Chicago; November 6, 9am.

With the great locking combination of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick in doubt, the All Blacks will be glad this match is in Chicago rather than Dublin. Whitelock (ankle injury) is no show for this game, while Retallick is doubtful because of concussion.

Ireland had a satisfactory but not great Six Nations early in the year, then lost a close fought series 2 -1 in South Africa against a troubled Springboks side.

After a long and exhausting season, Ireland had a long injury list and the absentees in South Africa included their great pivot Jonathan Sexton (shoulder surgery), along with others such as veteran prop Cian Healy (neck/knee), flankers Sean O'Brien (hamstring) and Peter O'Mahony (knee), and wing Tommy Bowe (knee).

Bowe is in the early stages of his comeback but the others should be set for a return. Ireland don't travel all that well, while the All Blacks almost always do. Ireland will be re-freshed, but short of match action.

Kiwi coach Joe Schmidt has re-signed until the next World Cup, but he is unlikely to have anything to celebrate in Chicago. This All Black team has so many points in them despite a major goalkicking problem. Away from Dublin, it's too early in the season to seriously contemplate Ireland's first win over the All Blacks. New Zealand Maori play the American Eagles at a Chicago football ground the day before.

Italy, Stadio Olympico, Rome, November 13, 3am.

Italy were winless in the Six Nations but are under a new coaching team led by Ireland's Conor O'Shea, with Mike Catt among his assistants. Italy haven't scored a win over one of the big guns in world rugby for a long time and finished so poorly in the Six Nations that there was talk about whether they were good enough to remain in the competition.

The 46-year-old O'Shea, a utility back who played 35 tests, has talked the talk which included a crash course in Italian. There have been improvements, a narrow loss away to Argentina and tight victories over the USA and Canada. Steve Hansen may shuffle his cards for this game, but anything other than a big All Blacks victory would be a surprise.

Ireland, Aviva Stadium, Dublin; November 20, 6.30am.

Surely the tour highlight, and Ireland must be some sort of chance to grab the historic first win assuming they didn't cause a shock in Chicago. Who will ever forget that magnificent clash in 2013, involving Ryan Crotty's late try and Aaron Cruden's double conversion chance? It was sport at its finest, a testament to the amazing All Black mindset. Unfortunately for Ireland, it also exposed their lack of inner belief when playing New Zealand, because the win was there for the taking.

The All Blacks have a superb record on these late season tours, with England the only stumbling block now and then. History is there to be made though. Ireland should be better prepared, having played Canada in Dublin after the Chicago game. That in turn will have alerted the All Blacks to problem areas. If Whitelock and Retallick are still missing, the All Blacks will face an even tougher task. Stand by for a repeat of the 2013 drama.

France, Stade de France, Paris; November 27, 9am.

There is nothing in the form book to suggest the French can bounce back from the quarter-final drubbing they received from the All Blacks at last year's World Cup.

They have a new coach in Guy Noves, the 62-year-old Toulouse mentor and brief test wing. Noves is known as a prickly, arrogant character who was famous for making it tough on previous French coaches seeking his assistance. He had terrific success with
Toulouse at home and in Europe, but latter teams were criticised for playing a dull style.
Critics fear he is a man from the past who will be unable to bring fluidity and imagination to the French side in an era which demands at least some recognition of where New Zealand is taking rugby.

As always, France battled against Argentina when they met mid-year, having failed to make any impressive statements in the Six Nations. France have games against Samoa in Toulouse and Australia in Paris before they take on the All Blacks.

- NZ Herald

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