The All Blacks' last major challenge this season against Ireland — sorry Italy you're not in the same league — has more dimensions than a Rubik's Cube.

Whichever way you twist and rework your ideas about this blockbuster in Dublin, one thing is clear about the team choices.

Injury has bitten into both sides but on this count the All Blacks have made inroads with the forced absence of Sonny Bill Williams, while Ireland have been unable to pick Conor Murray, who drives much of their play from halfback.

Ireland have risen to the second-rated side in the world through the discipline instilled by coach Joe Schmidt and his offsiders, while that cohesion has been driven on the park by Murray with his skilled tactical clarity at the hub of the team.


Box kicks, deft passes to runners, calling on defenders, covering tackles — the Irish halfback nails all areas and his loss will nip into his side's purpose.

Williams' shoulder damage removes him from contention in a year when he has been picked on reputation and performed some levels below that standard. Injury has been used as an excuse for his slow burn and also as a reason for his continued selection where the All Blacks prefer a big frame in midfield but his production did not merit an extension on that selection credit.

The All Blacks had set themselves for England giving themselves a fortnight preparation for their work at Twickenham but only a handful of players delivered on a day when the opening half-hour pointed to their lack of direction and a late TMO call saved them from defeat.

If, as a report suggests, the coaches left Kieran Read and his team to work out their plans when rain arrived hours before kickoff, then blame for the disjointed work spreads.

It's hard to believe Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and their crew didn't sidle up to Read, Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett to advise tailoring their work to the conditions. If that didn't happen you'd want to know why and if the players didn't get it you'd ask the same questions.

This test is the stage for everyone to show they are on the same wavelength and retain an edge on their rivals. Italy in Rome next week is the final game of the year but it's not the inquest this match will be.

Coping with Ireland and everything they bring at their home patch is a massive end-of-year exam in a season of fluctuating form-lines. The opening series with France was deeply flawed and twin struggles with a regrouping Springbok side and then an average English unit have not shifted the uncertainty indicator.

Five months of internationals around the globe is vastly different from a focused World Cup buildup in pool play then a sudden-death section next year in Japan. Ireland in Dublin is the immediate task and sole focus. What impressions will the All Blacks give us at Aviva Stadium about their current state and their ability to stay at the forefront of their craft?


Their form graph has wavered this year but in the midst of that there is the promise after they plucked new riches in Jack Goodhue, Richie Mo'unga and Karl Tu'inukuafe, pumped more experience into Scott Barrett and Nepo Laulala and brought more savvy to Ardie Savea.