Ireland v New Zealand: Brian O’Driscoll will get no sentimental adieu from All Blacks

New Zealand within 80 minutes of finishing 2013 in the unbeaten

First, the good news: Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney and a third Lions Test back by the name of O’Driscoll passed fitness examinations yesterday and will be present and correct when Ireland take the field for the last of their autumn internationals in Dublin tomorrow.

The bad news is the home side will be facing the All Blacks, who are within 80 minutes of finishing 2013 in the unbeaten state in which they started it.

As this will be Brian O’Driscoll’s last shot at international glory against New Zealand, there will be a strong emotional charge running through the occasion. But the great centre’s midfield partnership with Gordon D’Arcy, and his wider links with the outside-half Sexton and full-back Kearney, will have to be at their most productive if the home side are to stand an earthly.

Ireland have never beaten the silver-ferned brigade, and with the visitors pumped up for one final stand before a long off-season, there is no mistaking the identity of the bookmakers’ favourites.

O’Driscoll will draw level with Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s most decorated player tomorrow – he will win his 128th cap, with four months of his Test career remaining – but these All Blacks are unlikely to give way to sentiment. “I do believe that in a two-horse race there are no certainties,” said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, “but I think it will take an exceptional performance to beat so resilient a side.”

All Blacks’ 2013 run

June France (h) W 23-13

June France (h) W 30-0

June France (h) W 24-9

Aug Australia (a) W 47-29

Aug Australia (h) W 27-16

Sept Argentina (h) W 28-13

Sept S Africa (h) W 29-15

Sept Argentina (a) W 33-15

Oct S Africa (a) W 38-27

Oct Australia (h) W 41-33

Nov Japan (a) W 54-6

Nov France (a) W 26-19

Nov England (a) W 30-22

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