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Rugby World Cup quarter-final: New Zealand v Ireland
Kick-off:11.15am Irish time, Saturday.Venue:Tokyo Stadium.How to follow:The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 10.30am.On TV:Live on Eir Sport and RTÉ2.
When Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time on Irish soil at the Aviva stadium last November, optimism for this World Cup was at its zenith.
So it was that thousands more Irish fans began booking flights and tickets up to the quarter-final and even beyond, in the belief that this Irish team could boldly go where no Irish side had gone before in a World Cup.
In the assumption that Ireland would top Pool A and be playing in Sunday’s second of two quarter-finals in Tokyo this weekend, some of those fans may not have the match they had planned for, and hence the actual match tickets.
However it’s still distinctly encouraging that all but three of that Irish starting XV from last November have been picked for Saturday’s quarter-final in Yokohama Stadium.
The only exceptions are Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Conor Murray, and even at that, the Ulster lock replaced Devin Toner just past the hour against the All Blacks last November.
In Henshaw’s enforced absence that day, Bundee Aki started and had a blinder. It must be torturing the 29-year-old Aki that he has been ruled out of this once-in-a-lifetime quarter-final against the nation of his birth for a tackle that was punished with a red card against the country of his parents.
Aki will remain at the squad’s base in the Chiba prefecture adjacent to Disneyland as a fully active member in every aspect bar playing, and Simon Easterby has spoken of his value on the training pitch and elsewhere as a continuing member of this squad. But that must be small consolation for Aki himself.
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