Excitement levels for the 2023 Rugby World Cup have ramped up another notch with Thursday marking exactly one year to go until the tournament gets up and running.

For some teams, the next 12 months will present a chance to continue building momentum ahead of the showpiece event. For others, a year of uncertainty awaits.

While it is still too early to pick out a strong favourite to win the event, a handful of teams – major issues or not – stand out among the top candidates to lift the famous trophy.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how the leading lights are shaping up ahead of the quadrennial world championship in France.
 

SOUTH AFRICA

Where better to start than with the reigning world champions? The Springboks triumphed somewhat against the odds in Japan three years ago, becoming the first team to win the title after losing a match in the pool stage.

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, South Africa went 20 months between beating England in the 2019 final and cruising to a 40-9 victory over Georgia in July last year, though series victories over the British and Irish Lions, England and Wales have helped get any rustiness out of the system over the past 12 months or so.

The ongoing Rugby Championship is a better litmus test of what to expect in a year's time, and the Boks find themselves third with four matches played, albeit with only a point separating the four sides. Consistency is proving to be a major issue, having strung together successive wins only twice in their past 14 outings, something that must be put right.

 

NEW ZEALAND

Perennial World Cup favourites New Zealand won back-to-back tournaments prior to South Africa's triumph three years ago. If they are to have any chance of wrestling back the Webb Ellis Cup, then a number of issues must be resolved.

The All Blacks opted to put faith in under-fire boss Ian Foster amid a run of desperately disappointing results, which included three successive home Test losses for the first time in their history, with Ireland winning their maiden Test series in the country.

Defeat against Argentina two weeks ago may well have forced New Zealand chiefs to reconsider their options before it is too late, but Foster's side responded with an emphatic 53-3 victory against the same opponents in Hamilton to move top of the Rugby Championship standings and send out a message to their critics.

Back-to-back fixtures with Australia, followed by Tests with Wales, Scotland and England, will provide a better indication of exactly where this New Zealand side are ahead of the World Cup after a turbulent period.


IRELAND

Ideally for Ireland, the World Cup would start this week rather than in a year's time on the back of what has been a stellar period. Andy Farrell's side closed out the momentous series win in New Zealand in July and have won 13 of their past 16 matches.

Despite that consistent run of results, Ireland have gone four years between Six Nations titles, with their solitary loss to France in this year's competition prolonging their wait for silverware.

Ranked at number one in the world a year out from France 2023, Ireland need to fine tune one or two areas and ensure they keep their star players – Johnny Sexton among them – fit and firing.

 

FRANCE

Having lived up to the hype by ending a 12-year wait for Six Nations success, followed up by their recent series win over Japan, France are now under pressure to win the World Cup for the first time in their history on home soil next year.

Les Bleus have won 10 in a row since their most recent defeat, coming at the hands of Australia in July 2021, and will test themselves against Australia and South Africa prior to their Six Nations title defence getting under way in February.

A fit Antoine Dupont remains crucial to any chance France have of ending their World Cup hoodoo following a record three defeats in finals. Beyond wrapping certain players in cotton wool, Fabien Galthie must ensure the hunger remains and that his men can cope with the pressure that comes with being the host nation.


ENGLAND

If results in both hemispheres over the past few months have taught us anything, it is that any of the major rugby nations can beat any other on their day. Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Argentina have each produced some big victories, for example, while Australia as ever will fancy themselves on the biggest stage of them all.

The same is very much true of England, who earned an impressive series win Down Under to silence Eddie Jones' growing list of critics following yet another underwhelming Six Nations campaign.

And therein lies the problem for England. Jones has constantly said hitting form in time for the World Cup is all that matters, and the Red Rose simply cannot afford for one of their off days to come in a knockout match. 

As runners-up last time around, and as one of only four teams to have ever lifted the trophy, this will be another win-or-bust tournament for England in what will be Jones' final bow before being replaced.

Wayne Parnell starred with the ball as South Africa won by 44 runs to complete a 2-0 T20I series victory over Ireland.

Medium-pacer Parnell took 5-30 on Friday in Bristol, leading South Africa's bowling attack as they successfully defended a total of 182-6.

Opening batsman Reeza Hendricks led the way in the Proteas' innings, striking six boundaries as he mounted 42 before succumbing to Gareth Delany, who with figures of 2-24 was the pick of Ireland's bowlers.

Hendricks' stand came to an end in the 13th over, with Delany taking his second wicket two balls later when he dismissed Aiden Markram, who had plundered 27 from just 10 balls.

Yet Heinrich Klaasen (39) and captain David Miller (32 not out) steered South Africa to a strong total, setting the stage for their bowlers to do the rest.

Parnell was on a hat-trick in his first over when he dismissed Andy Balbirnie and Lorcan Tucker for ducks, but Harry Tector (34) provided some resistance before also falling to Parnell, who had just sent Curtis Campher packing.

Dwaine Pretorius (3-33) took quickfire wickets to further damage Ireland's hopes, and he wrapped up the win when Barry McCarthy picked out Markram at deep midwicket after Parnell had sealed his five-for by dismissing Andy McBrine.

It was a tale of four batsmen in Bristol, with Reeza Hendricks playing a key role as South Africa sealed a 21-run victory against Ireland in the first of two T20Is.

A partnership of 112 between Hendricks (74) and Aiden Markram (56) helped the Proteas to a total of 211-5 from their 20 overs.

Gareth Delany (2-31) dismissed both in consecutive deliveries, but additional help from Tristan Stubbs (24 from 11 balls) and Dwaine Pretorius (21 from 7) at the end of the innings ultimately made all the difference.

Ireland's reply got off to a steady start, but a middle order collapse left them on 84-5 after 9.2 overs.

Lorcan Tucker and George Dockrell stepped up to mount a comeback, with Tucker hitting 78 from just 38 balls, including seven fours and five sixes, while Dockrell ably supported with 43 from 28 deliveries.

However, like Hendricks and Markram, both were out to consecutive balls to Tabraiz Shamsi (2-37) and Pretorius (1-44), with Ireland's tail unable to produce the same support that South Africa's middle order had as they closed on 190-9.

South Africa will not risk any complacency when they face Ireland in this week's two-match T20I series, Aiden Markram has promised.

The Proteas are in the midst of their all-formats tour of England, and after beating Jos Buttler's team in a three-match T20I series, they face an Ireland side that is still winless in a T20I series under new coach Heinrich Malan, who goes up against his home nation.

Ireland came close to famous wins against both India and New Zealand, but they have lost their last six T20Is, which is tied for their longest losing run in the format, while they have already suffered defeat in eight T20Is in total this year.

South Africa played Ireland in 2021, drawing an ODI series but comfortably winning the three T20Is.

Markram, however, is not taking anything for granted ahead of Wednesday's opener in Bristol, as South Africa look to gear up for this year's World Cup, with the Proteas only playing India in the shortest format in between this series and heading to Australia.

"It will definitely be a new, exciting challenge for us," he told reporters. "We played them quite recently in Ireland and we saw exactly what they could do.

"They are improving series by series, we saw them against India, and they are a team you can't take for granted."

 

South Africa do not go into this with their first-choice squad, with injuries to captain Temba Bavuma and paceman Kagiso Rabada.

Markram though is among the players eager to stake a claim ahead of the World Cup.

"The communication has been really good from coach, management team and captain," said Markram, who has been the top scorer for South Africa in eight T20Is since the beginning of 2020.

"It makes it easier to understand why they are [rotating players]. Building up to World Cups you want to pick your best squad and it's important to give guys fair opportunities before you select the team."

Tector tipped to flourish

Harry Tector is likely to be key for Ireland. He is reportedly drawing interest for Cricket South Africa's new T20 league, meaning he has a real chance to impress any would-be suitors, having scored 384 runs across 14 ODIs at an average of 76.40 this year, and 249 in nine T20Is.

Tector said: "We've shown that when we stand up to these teams, we are capable of going blow-for-blow with them, and it feels that way within the group. The belief is there that we can beat these big teams, and not get nervous about any team we play."

Catching practice required

Since the beginning of 2021, no team has dropped more catches in men's T20Is than South Africa (40), who have managed a catch success rate of 79 per cent during this period

Quinton de Kock does not buck that trend, as since the start of 2020, he has dropped more catches than any other wicketkeeper. 

Andy Farrell has signed a new deal to remain Ireland head coach until at least August 2025.

Farrell has been talked up as a potential successor to England boss Eddie Jones, but the 47-year-old on Friday put pen to paper on a two-year extension to his Ireland contract.

The Englishman masterminded a historic first Test series win for Ireland over the All Blacks in New Zealand this month, with a 2-1 triumph putting them top of the world rankings.

Farrell replaced Joe Schmidt after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and will be in charge when Ireland attempt to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time in France next year. 

He said: "I am happy to extend my contract with Irish Rugby for a further two years. As a group we have made it clear that we are building towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and we have taken some decent strides in that regard in recent months.

"Ahead of the tour to New Zealand myself and David [Nucifora, Irish Rugby Football Union performance director] looked at the opportunities and challenges facing the national squad after the tournament in France.

"I am excited about continuing to work with the group and with the next generation of Irish international players."

Nucifora said: "Andy is one of the outstanding coaches in world rugby and his work in leading the transition within the national team since the 2019 Rugby World Cup has been exceptional.

"Ireland are currently the number one ranked team in the world, an incredibly tough five match tour of New Zealand was a success on several levels and a Triple Crown was secured in the 2022 Six Nations Championship.

"A coach of Andy's calibre is always going to be in high demand, and we are delighted that he has agreed to extend his contract with the IRFU. 

"This new deal, agreed prior to the Tour of New Zealand, allows us to plan beyond the 2023 Rugby World Cup with the certainty that one of the top coaching talents in the game is spearheading the national programme."

New Zealand coach Ian Foster labelled the confrontation between Akira Ioane and former All Black Justin Marshall as disappointing, but assured the issue has been cleared up.

The All Blacks suffered their first home series defeat in 28 years after Ireland triumphed 32-22 in Saturday's winner-takes-all-decider.

While Irish players took to the streets of Wellington to celebrate, flanker Ioane and Sky Sports commentator Marshall were caught on video footage confronting one another.

Marshall, who played 81 games for New Zealand, was ushered away by Caleb Clarke and George Bower as Ioane, surrounded by team-mates, attempted to move towards the 48-year-old.

The footage was drowned out by the celebrations around them and Foster expressed his disappointment with all those involved after the video circulated on social media.

"Look, the reality is it's disappointing. But two people were mouthing off a little bit at each other. I wish that hadn't happened," said Foster, whose job safety was confirmed on Friday despite defeat to Ireland.

"Yes, I've talked to both people involved, and I know they've had a conversation with each other, and there are no issues going forward."

New Zealand Rugby issued a statement after the incident, saying "behaving responsibly is one of the core values in our team environment" as Sky confirmed Marshall would remain part of their coverage for the All Blacks' upcoming tour of South Africa in August.

Though Foster questioned the actions of both Marshall and Ioane, the 57-year-old was not best pleased with the person taking the footage and then uploading it onto social media.

"I'm also not overly impressed that people think that they should film that stuff and spread it," he added.

"Because two people arguing in a pub, I don't think is as big of an issue as people make it out to be."

Ioane was still included in the 36-man All Blacks squad on Friday for the upcoming Rugby Championship.

New Zealand head coach Ian Foster avoided questions over his future after the series defeat to Ireland, saying "I just want to talk about the test match."

The Irish had previously not won in 13 away games against New Zealand, but a 23-12 triumph last weekend gave them the opportunity to make even more history.

And a magnificent Ireland performance in a 32-22 victory in the decider condemned the All Blacks to their first home series defeat in 27 years.

The result also meant that New Zealand lost two games on home soil for the first time since a pair of defeats to South Africa in 1998.

In the post-match press conference Foster was quizzed about his future, to which he replied: "I just want to talk about the test match."

The 57-year-old was quick though to heap praise on Ireland, telling reporters: "New Zealanders have probably got to realise that this was a very good Irish team.

"Give them some credit. I think it would be disrespectful for us to not make that the number one item.

"They've come and achieved something pretty special here, and I think they deserve a bit of time in the sun for that."

Foster was also puzzled at New Zealand's lacklustre performance, with the 22-3 score they faced at half-time the largest 40-minute deficit in All Blacks history.

"For some reason we're just not as calm," Foster added.

"In the defence area we're getting a bit fidgety, there's a few holes.

"Ireland aren't a team you can let get behind because that is when they play an up-tempo game.”

Andy Farrell believes Ireland have achieved their biggest feat yet by winning a series in New Zealand, a result that he suggests "won't be done again".

The tourists were humbled by the All Blacks in the first of three Tests but responded in sensational fashion with back-to-back victories – their first ever away wins in New Zealand.

A first such series success was secured on Saturday by a 32-22 win in which Ireland dominated the first half and dug in for the second.

And the long-awaited accomplishment is not one Farrell foresees happening again in a hurry.

"This is a special group, you know? To come over here and achieve what they've achieved, it won't be done again," the Ireland coach told Sky Sports. "Knowing what we know, that's not going to happen in the next few years, anyway.

"This is probably the toughest thing to do in world rugby.

"We came over here with task in hand, and we went for it straight from the start, which is great. It's a group of 40 players and a lot of staff, as well.

"We said it was going to be the start of our World Cup year, but I don't know... I think it is probably a little bit bigger than that."

Ireland led by 19 points at half-time, the biggest advantage against New Zealand at that stage of a match in Test history.

Having beaten one of the world's best sides, Farrell's men are confident they can take on any opponents.

"They already do believe that," he said. "They keep turning up and surprising me, certainly. The bunch are just tight, and they really do believe, they really do believe that.

"After the first game, we got held up over the try line five times and made plenty of opportunities in the second game, and they knew there was a better performance in them.

"There certainly was for that first 40, wasn't there? These guys have won a lot of stuff and broke some records – this one will top it, I would have thought."

Johnny Sexton was determined to enjoy Ireland's historic series win in New Zealand, even if he recognises there remains work to do ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup.

Ireland headed to New Zealand for a three-match series having never won an away Test against the All Blacks.

They ended that wait last week to set up a decider in Wellington, where the tourists sensationally snatched the series with a 32-22 success.

The result was no less than Ireland deserved, with their 19-point half-time lead the largest any team has ever enjoyed at that stage of a Test against New Zealand.

Although the All Blacks rallied after the break, with Andrew Porter heading to the sin bin, Sexton helped to keep his side ahead having passed 1,000 international points in the first half.

"It's a very special day, because we're playing against the best in the world, the very best," Sexton told Sky Sport in the post-match presentation. "To come down here and do it is very, very special."

Sexton said Ireland have learned the hard way about getting carried away. This result comes a year out from the 2023 World Cup – a competition that Ireland have yet to win, or even make the semi-finals of, despite being one of the world's best teams over an extended period.

"It means a lot now," Sexton said. "I know in a year's time, when the World Cup starts, it won't mean anything, as we've learned before.

"But we'll certainly enjoy tonight – and maybe a couple more days. Then we've got to keep improving; that's what we've learned from previous years: we've got to keep improving.

"This group of boys, with the management we've got, they're a very special group, and I'm proud to be part of it."

Sexton paid special tribute to Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

"It's clear how much belief [is in the team], and it starts with the main man, with Faz," he said.

"He's come in here, he's changed things, he was brave at the start and he stuck with some older lads and got criticised, he brought in some younger lads, he's just done an amazing job. It's all credit to him, really."

Ireland dominated a record-breaking first half and held on for a second straight victory in New Zealand to triumph in their three-Test series against the All Blacks.

The tourists had been winless in 13 away matches against New Zealand prior to last weekend's breakthrough success, which set up Saturday's decider.

Andy Farrell's side duly made it two in a row with a remarkable 32-22 win that required both style and spirit in Wellington.

A quite sensational first half saw Ireland 19 points in front at the interval at 22-3 – the biggest 40-minute deficit in All Black history.

Hugo Keenan's stunning score was one of three tries, while Johnny Sexton kicked his way past 1,000 international points, becoming the eighth man to that mark.

New Zealand were unsurprisingly much improved after the break, and Andrew Porter's yellow card for a head-on-head challenge gave them further impetus.

The second of two Sexton penalties bounced away off the crossbar between a pair of All Blacks tries, but Rob Herring's superb score at full stretch gave Ireland breathing room to clinch a series success.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is hoping his side can provide "chaos" and bring doubt into the minds of New Zealand players ahead of their series-deciding Test this Saturday.

Farrell's side has a chance to claim an historic series win in Wellington, after Ireland's first-ever triumph over the All Blacks in New Zealand last Saturday, with a 23-12 victory in Dunedin.

Notwithstanding the win-loss record, New Zealand has been an otherwise perilous place for touring Irish sides, with three of their seven-heaviest defeats coming there –including a 60-0 defeat in Hamilton in 2012.

The gravity of the occasion is not lost on Farrell, who is looking for his team to rise to it, which could then potentially build pressure on the hosts.

"It really doesn’t get any better for us," he said. "We’ve talked about playing against the All Blacks when their backs are against the wall or they’ve come off a loss and we know what the history says about all that.

"But that’s exactly where we want to be. We know they will be hurting, we know that they bounce back unbelievably strong. We’ve played them enough times now to realise what’s coming. Everyone realises the size of the task in hand but there’s a lot of excitement in being able to deal with that.

"We’ll see whether there is that much improvement needed because we’re in control as well as them. They’ve got a plan, but it’s up to us to make sure we bring a bit of chaos to that plan. We’ve got to make sure that we put a bit of doubt in the All Blacks' minds as the game goes."

Meanwhile, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is relishing the challenge and pressure.

The 57-year-old has responded to the Dunedin loss by recalling Sam Whitelock after his concussion, as well as tighthead prop Nepo Laulala, while winger Will Jordan has been added to the starting XV.

"It’s tough having a loss but the tough weeks are often the most exciting," he told the All Blacks' website.

"A series decider against a high-quality side is a great occasion for our growth as a team."

Keith Earls will captain Ireland for the first time when Andy Farrell's side face the Maori All Blacks in Wellington on Tuesday.

The Maoris eased to a 32-17 victory in the first warm-up meeting before Ireland responded to a comprehensive Test defeat against New Zealand by defeating the All Blacks away from home for the first time.

That teed up a winner-takes-all decider at the Sky Stadium on Saturday but Ireland clash with the Maoris once more before the Test series decider against New Zealand.

Farrell previously hinted at rotation to offer his second-string side valuable minutes on the tour, and he has made just three changes to his last team that lost to the Maoris in Hamilton.

Stuart McCloskey comes into midfield to partner Earls, who is Ireland's second-highest try scorer of all time, while Michael Lowry is another introduction at full-back.

The start for Lowry means Jimmy O'Brien will move to the left wing, while forward Niall Scannell replaces the concussed Dave Heffernan.

Jeremy Loughman has also been named in the starting side despite suffering concussion in the first meeting just two weeks ago, with Ed Byrne expected to make his first appearance off the bench.

Farrell hopes Ireland can find form in their warm-up against the Maoris and believes there is no player more deserving of captaining Ireland than Earls.

"For the likes of him, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, well everyone really, their attitudes have been top class and there has only been one thing on their mind and that is, 'how can we help the team-mates, how can we make the fellas who are starting in advance of them better?'," he told reporters.

"There is no more deserving man to captain Ireland against the Maoris than Keith.

"He was not as shocked as Bundee [Aki, to be named captain] but he has always been a leader, Keith, especially over the last five or six years that I have known him.

"He has always been curious about how he can learn more, such as edge defence as an example, or what more he can learn about back three play in general. He is able to get across at 13 no problem.

"He has always been one who has been able to take people with him, always one who wants to share and help. That has been at the forefront of his attitude for the last five or six years that I have known him and he will bring all that to the forefront on Tuesday night."

Ireland team: Michael Lowry; Jordan Larmour, Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey, Jimmy O’Brien, Ciaran Frawley, Craig Casey; Jeremy Loughman, Niall Scannell, Tom O’Toole, Joe McCarthy, Kieran Treadwell, Cian Prendergast, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Mack Hansen.

England head coach Eddie Jones says rugby union's laws are "out of control" after a high number of cards were again issued across this weekend's Test matches.

Jones saw up close two players get sin-binned in England's 25-17 win over Australia on Saturday as Marcus Smith and Izaia Perese were penalised for deliberate knock-ons.

The 62-year-old did not feel either player deserved to be issued a yellow card, which was also the general view of spectators watching on.

Referee Jaco Peyper was even more card happy in Ireland's historic away win in New Zealand, meanwhile, dishing out three yellows and a red in the first half alone in Dunedin.

On the back of another day of contentious decisions, Jones has called for "common sense" to prevail from officials.

"The game's out of control," he said. "You saw the New Zealand and Ireland Test – at one stage, commentators couldn't count how many players were on the field! 

"You had three backs packing a scrum. We've gone the full hog where everything's a red card, yellow card and there needs to be some common sense.

"I picked the referee's pocket [before the game] – he had plenty of cards in it."

While Jones was adamant neither Smith nor Perese should have been cautioned, opposite number Dave Rennie said he could understand the referee's call.

"There's no doubt Izzy is trying to catch it," Rennie said. "It's certainly different from an intentional slap down, but I have no issue with that decision."

Head coach Andy Farrell says his "little old Ireland" can compete with anyone in the world after setting up a series decider with New Zealand.

Ireland were comprehensively defeated in the first Test against the All Blacks, losing 42-19, but responded with a 23-12 victory in the second meeting to claim their first away win in New Zealand on Saturday.

Victory in Dunedin teed up a winner-takes-all decider at the Sky Stadium in Wellington next weekend, with New Zealand looking to set the record straight and seal the series win on the North Island.

While Farrell expects another tough task, the 47-year-old insists Ireland will not shy away from the challenge as they fancy themselves against any side in the world.

"We always get a response, don't we?" he said. "Everyone knows that, history tells you that. We're used to it by now. We'll look forward to that.

"We've created a little bit of history for ourselves, little old Ireland, but we've earned the right to take it to the last weekend to see what we can do in the final week.

"The players back themselves against anyone and the more we can keep giving them, these occasions of playing the best teams in the world, the better they're going to get."

The task for Ireland in the second Test was somewhat eased by the first-half dismissal of New Zealand prop Angus Ta'avao.

Ireland did have to absorb some pressure in the second half, though, and Farrell pinpointed their defensive resolve as proof of the continued development of his side.

"I suppose the most impressive thing that we are doing pretty well at this moment in time is understanding where we're at, each moment at a time and staying calm and not getting too overawed or frustrated with errors or decisions or not executing," he continued.

"We're pretty good at trying to stay neutral and stay on task and it's helping us to play in these big games and compete."

A second-string Ireland team were defeated 32-17 by the Maori All Blacks at the end of June in Hamilton, and Farrell also plans to offer those players a chance to make amends against the same team on Tuesday.

"There are bigger things to think about in regard of this tour for us," he added.

"We've some young lads in that changing room that have been inspired by these lot [the Test team], who want to get back out there again on Tuesday night and perform well against the Maoris.

"These lads have taken a lot of pain, that's what we've put them under, the pressure of taking them out of their comfort zone.

"The weeks have been totally different to what they've been used to before because of us trying to play five games in such a short space of time and there's been no whinging.

"They've been mentally really tough and they'll back the lads up as well to make sure they're in good form for Tuesday night."

Head coach Andy Farrell was gushing with pride following Ireland's historic victory over New Zealand on Saturday.

The Irish, who were beaten 42-19 in the first Test last week, responded brilliantly by prevailing 23-12 in Dunedin for their first ever away win over the All Blacks.

Farrell's side opened up a 10-0 lead thanks to Andrew Porter's try and the right boot of Johnny Sexton, but that was cut to three points before half-time when Beauden Barrett went over for the hosts, who had Angus Ta'avao sent off following a clash of heads with Garry Ringrose.

Nevertheless, the visitors capitalised on their numerical advantage after the break. Porter crossed again with Sexton adding a further eight points, while Will Jordan's late try was a mere consolation for New Zealand as the Irish held out for a famous win.

And Farrell heaped praise on his players as they levelled the series ahead of the final Test in Wellington next week.

"I'm just pleased for the players because they're so desperate to inspire people back home, and they keep turning up time and time again and doing special things for Irish rugby and the Irish people," he told Sky Sports.

"I'm so glad they were able to get it over the line because it had a bit of everything, it was a courageous effort.

"We all know the All Blacks come out of the blocks; they're stronger, faster, and we were courageous, we hit the ground running right from the start.

"We didn't get sucked into the allure of the game. Going down to 14 men, and then going down to 13 men, we kept playing the right game in the right parts of the field and applying pressure. I'm just so proud of them.

"The main thing is we're learning how to deal with the pressures of the top-level game. Our composure's really good.

"Things are not always going to go sprightly for you, especially against the world's best, but our composure doesn't change when we make a mistake, and we got what we deserved.

"These lads have made history, but they've also earned the right to compete for a series."

Sexton added: "No Irish team has ever done it before. We are delighted, but it is all on the line next week. We have got a fantastic coaching team and they had us well up for the game. 

"We didn't give the best account of ourselves last week and the All Blacks punished us for our mistake, but they [the coaching team] put us in a really good place this week. We had to go and deliver, and we did that."

All eyes turn to what will be an exciting series finale at the Sky Stadium next week, and two-try scorer Porter insists he and his team-mates have nothing to lose.

"All that matters for us now is next week, but we will enjoy tonight," the prop said.

"Obviously we had an extra man for most of the game, so we will have to put in a better performance next week and give our supporters even more to cheer. 

"We have created a bit of history today, but it would be even sweeter if we could pull off the win next week as well. 

"We will take our learnings from today and throw everything at it. We have got nothing to lose."

Page 1 of 8
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.