Chris Rattue lists 13 things you need to know about the Irish rugby team ahead of their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal showdown with the All Blacks on Saturday.
1) Joe Schmidt is the third Kiwi to coach Ireland in the professional era, after Murray Kidd (1995 – 97) and Warren Gatland (1998 – 2001). Schmidt was born in the Northland town of Kawakawa, home to All Black centre Jack Goodhue and birthplace of rugby's famous Going brothers. Schmidt played for Manawatu, and cut his teeth as a coach as an assistant with Bay of Plenty and the Blues before heading overseas.
2) Former Taranaki, Crusaders and All Black prop Greg Feek
is the Ireland scrum coach. After uniting with Schmidt at Leinster, they have become inseparable. "I can pretty much guess what he's going to say sometimes," Feek reckoned. Like Schmidt, Feek is quitting Ireland after this World Cup and hopes to score a coaching job in New Zealand.
• Premium - Chris Rattue: Bundee Aki's Rugby World Cup ban against All Blacks is a farce
• Premium - 2019 Rugby World Cup: Chris Rattue - All Blacks paranoia needs to end
• Premium - 2019 Rugby World Cup: Chris Rattue - Why 'flavour of the moment' Ardie Savea should be benched for big All Blacks matches
• Premium - Chris Rattue: Thrashing of minnows a bad sign ahead of 2019 Rugby World Cup
3) Ireland's record against the All Blacks is not good. They have won two and drawn one out of 31 games, but those two victories have both come in the past three years.
4) At 37, Ireland's captain Rory Best is one of the oldest players at the World Cup. He made his debut against the All Blacks in 2005, sitting on the bench alongside brother Simon and another Best, flanker Neil.
5) Best is famous for not singing the national anthem
before matches, saying he likes to remain calm so he doesn't make errors when the game begins. He also joked: "I enjoy getting absolutely massacred on social media after the game for not singing it." Ireland plays two anthems at home games and Best doesn't sing either.
6) But Best was not backwards in coming forwards when facing the special Kapa O Pango haka in Dublin last year. He urged his players to link arms and step forward in the face of the famous pre-game challenge. "It just represented the fact we weren't going to take a backward step the whole game," said loose forward Josh van der Flier after Ireland's victory. It begs the obvious question - will Ireland make this pre-game stand again?
7) Star halfback Conor Murray's partner is Joanna Cooper (above), winner of Ireland's Miss Universe contest in 2015.
The 26-year-old Cooper – a model who lives in London - arrived in Japan this week to spend a couple of days with Murray before the quarterfinal. She is described as an influencer with a huge Instagram following.
8) Unlike football, which has Northern and Republic teams, Ireland is represented by one rugby side.
9) The Irish squad contains two Kiwis – suspended midfield back Bundee Aki from Counties Manukau and utility back Joey Carbery from Northland. Jared Payne and Sean Reidy have also played for Ireland. The World Cup squad includes two other foreigners, South Africans Jean Kleyn and CJ Stander.
10) Ireland topped the world rankings for the first time, although only briefly, when they beat Wales in a pre-World Cup meeting in early September. They are currently fourth, with New Zealand back on top.
11) Irish rugby is on a relative high, but they have had plenty of tough times. The Irish have "won" the wooden spoon in the Six Nations (and previous tournaments) more than any other team - 36 times.
12) Four of the 10 most capped British and Irish Lions are Irish
…the record holding Willie John McBride plus Mike Gibson, Tony O'Reilly and Syd Millar. O'Reilly is the Lions top try scorer. Nine of the 27 post-war Lions captains have been Irish.
13) According to 2016 figures Ireland has a greater number of males playing rugby than New Zealand does – about 141,000 to 133,000.
Love your rugby? Subscribe now to NZ Herald Premium for unlimited access to premium content, including our exclusive, first-class rugby coverage. Check out our special rugby offer here