Cape Town - All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett has reflected his side's respect for Ireland ahead of their highly-anticipated clash in Dublin on Saturday.
Barrett spent a year as an eight-year-old living in Ireland and made his debut against the Emerald Isle in 2012. That three points (74-71) separates the All Blacks and Ireland since 2013 sums up the nature of what has fast become a fierce rivalry.
“We haven’t played Ireland at home since . I’ve played them twice up here. It’s always tough. And once in Chicago,” Barrett told the Irish Times.
“That shows the strength of Ireland and how far they have come. So yeah, they have improved a lot. We respect them as a team.”
The world’s top two-ranked teams will face off in Dublin this weekend and with it, two of the five candidates for World Rugby Player of the Year will duel, in Barrett and Sexton.
Sexton should be ahead on points over the reigning back-to-back winner and is in the box seat to claim the award. 2018 has been Ireland’s year, and Sexton has been pivotal for the national team and at domestic level with Leinster.
“Johnny, he’s not afraid of pulling the trigger. He can execute some pretty good plays,” says Barrett. “He likes to give the ball space. So I guess we are similar be it a cross-field kick or a big pass. Yeah, he just has a great set of skills.
“I don’t know the head coach too well, but I’ve played against [Andy] Farrell before and his defences,” he adds. “I know him personally as well as [Greg] Feek. So it just shows in their game.
“You’ve seen it come on from strength to strength in recent years. What I see is a dominant forward pack, a well-organised side – they get the small details right in their game. They’re very structured and they’ve got a good skillset to run ball in hand.”