At the start of the year, the biggest test of the year was never tipped to be going down in Dublin in November.

But we have a cracking international to look forward to on Sunday - and the signs the All Blacks are up for it were there to be seen against Italy in Rome.

We know it will be a vastly different line-up wearing the black jersey at Lansdowne Road, although several individual displays against Italy will have given Messrs Hansen, Foster and Fox a few things to mull over.

But the intensity of the performance and the resolve across the team was exactly what the trio needed to see after the events of Chicago.


It's a cliche to say wounded All Blacks are the most dangerous beast in world rugby. But it's true.

Ireland will have to be even better than they were in the Windy City to achieve the rare feat of beating the All Blacks twice in a row.

New Zealand were out-thought in Chicago. That doesn't happen often.

But the methodical way the All Blacks will react was there to be seen even before the kickoff against Italy.

It was reflected in the selection. It would have been easy to have thrown in some of the hard-heads who will be unhappy with their efforts in Chicago. It would have provided an immediate chance to regroup.

But the test against Italy was always earmarked as an opportunity to blood new players, bring on emerging ones and take an important step forward in the development of depth.

Hansen and company stuck to that plan, which takes mental fortitude.

The way the team responded is heartening. I feel we are potentially going to see a test for the ages on Sunday.

Ireland will be up for it, of course. The game is on a high there and Munster's great win over the Maori All Blacks will only heighten anticipation. But the display in Rome showed me these All Blacks are ready.

Selections will soak up the most conversation this week.

I think the forwards largely take care of themselves but the backline choices will be intriguing.

Aaron Smith did well when he came on but we all know the form TJ Perenara is in.

Aaron Cruden deservedly won the man-of-the-match award in Rome with a timely reminder of his abilities, Israel Dagg was a commanding figure and I thought Anton Lienert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa delivered, as did Waisake Naholo.

If Ryan Crotty can't beat his injury and is ruled out, I suspect there will be a lot of discussion about what number Lienert-Brown wears. Is he best in 12 or 13? That decision could shape a lot of what happens inside and outside of him. In my view, Anton is pretty much the midfield incumbent if Crotty is unavailable. It's who he is partnered with, and which role he takes, that is key.