Rugby: The All Blacks are nearing the end of their Northern tour.

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Analysis – The All Blacks’ biggest hurdle so far on their Northern Hemisphere tour is a little ironic.

Beauden Barrett scores against Wales 2021.

Beauden Barrett scores against Wales 2021. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

After three very one-sided tests in a row, all signs had rightfully pointed to the Irish match as the one that was really going to be worth getting up for, but the side now find themselves somewhat upstaged by the Black Caps and their thrilling progress to the T20 World Cup final.

In fact, the All Blacks arguably aren’t even the biggest deal in Dublin this week.

On Thursday night, the Republic of Ireland hosted Portugal in a World Cup qualifier at Aviva Stadium, with the visitors having Cristiano Ronaldo striding onto the pitch with the football world’s eyes on him.

Ronaldo, who rejoined Manchester United from Juventus this season, earns more in a week than most of the All Blacks will this season even though he took a £6 million pay cut to make the move to Old Trafford.

But by the time the All Blacks take the field, Ronaldo will be long gone and the attention will be on what Ireland will bring to this very strong-looking All Black side.

Most of it is predictable, Aaron Smith’s shock return has meant he has only been on tackle bag carrying duty this week.

Aaron Smith thanks the fans. New Zealand All Blacks v Ireland. 1/4 Final, Rugby World Cup 2019.

Aaron Smith. Photo: Photosport / Andrew Cornaga

It will be interesting to see just what role Smith plays next week, given that while his call up has the potential to turn into a blockbuster showdown with French captain Antoine Dupont, it wasn’t exactly a move that seemed entirely necessary.

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One of the positives of the tour is that all three halfbacks have been very good, with rookie Finlay Christie looking right at home in a black jersey.

Brad Weber has taken a knock to the face that will presumably keep him out of the remaining two games, so bringing Smith in as injury cover is more of a storyline than if they’d gone with another young player who would be under no illusions that his role would be to sit and watch. Or, more realistically, backed Christie and TJ Perenara to do the job.

The Beauden Barrett v Richie Mo’unga selection saga has rolled on, with Barrett getting the nod after his excellent performance against Wales.

It’s almost at the point now where we have to accept that Ian Foster is simply using the two as horses for courses, with every chance Mo’unga will be back starting next weekend.

For Beauden Barrett though, his selection is somewhat coupled with his brother Jordie, whose fine form has meant he is now definitely the first choice fullback and a reliable goalkicker as well. That was the one thing Mo’unga had over Beauden, but now the 100 test veteran can just get his kid brother to take the tee for him.

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Sam Cane is still being kept on ice even though he got through the game against Italy unscathed.

Just exactly what the backburner approach to his comeback does for his future captaincy will be interesting, as Samuel Whitelock has been a natural fit as leader and doesn’t look like he’s in any mood to call it a day any time soon. At 33, he still has another World Cup in him and will likely leave as the most capped All Black of all time.

Sevu Reece’s selection shows how one massive deviation in his career could have seen him be playing against the All Blacks rather than for them, his discharge without conviction of a male assaults female incident in 2017 saw a contract with Irish province Connacht torn up.

Had he gone and played the way he has that has seen him be a regular on the try-scoring charts in Super Rugby, it is highly likely that he would be eligible for a green jersey right now after a three-year residency.

The All Blacks will go in as favourites, but there is an air of mystery over this test after Ireland’s demolition of Japan last weekend.

The Irish will still need all their key players to have their best games of the year all at the same time, but the All Blacks will be very mindful that is exactly what happened the last time they went to Dublin.

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