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TOKYO (AP) — An Irish critic who enraged New Zealanders by describing the haka as a marketing gimmick may just have sharpened the focus of the All Blacks for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.
The All Blacks haven’t lost a game at the sport’s marquee event since a quarterfinal upset against France in 2007, rebounding from that with back-to-back titles in 2011 and ’15 during a decade run at No. 1.
Ireland hasn’t won a knockout match in seven attempts at the Rugby World Cup.
Nerves will be a factor at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, but the Irish have won two of their last three tests against the All Blacks, starting with their historic first at Chicago in 2016 and another in Dublin last November.
The Irish have a Kiwi head coach in Joe Schmidt, who is well versed in New Zealand rugby. And his assistant, Andy Farrell, has worked out a defensive system that seems to be working against the All Blacks.
This showdown is happening before most had anticipated. The Irish held the top-ranking before the tournament and were favored to top Pool A, but an upset 19-12 loss to Japan meant they finished second and drew the toughest of all assignments in the knockout stage.
Compounding the usual tension were the remarks from the critic in Ireland which were widely republished in New Zealand. To the point where the All Blacks
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