Rugby World Cup: All Blacks taking inspiration from Irish masterclass into showdown with Italy

All Blacks loose forward Dalton Papali'i counts himself as one of the millions who were enraptured by Ireland's dogged win over South Africa on Sunday morning (NZ time).

The two heavyweights of world rugby played out a classic arm-wrestle that further solidified their standing as two of the tournament favourites.

Barring any monumental upsets through the final stages of pool play, the result also puts Ireland on a collision course with the All Blacks for a quarter-final epic – a team they've lost three of their past four tests against.

After initially attempting to use the match as a learning tool, Papali'i admits he was swept up in the spectacle, as Ireland held off a late charge from the Springboks in a gripping low-scoring contest.

"That's how rugby should be played," he said.

"There were some moments in that game where you would hold your breath for longer than usual. Those are the games even as players you get excited about.  

"You watch in detail and try and see what they're doing but it's hard to not to turn into a spectator and actually be on the edge of your seat.

"The game flowed so well. There were no calls around head high... it was all clean contact and it was fast ball as well.

"Those are the games I love watching and I think everyone can agree on that."

Ireland celebrate their win over South Africa.
Ireland celebrate their win over South Africa. Photo credit: Getty Images

The match has become the new standard-bearer for the tournament, setting a new high watermark for their rivals to aspire to, including the All Blacks, where it's left a lasting impression.

The Blues captain admits the match had left him with an added sense of inspiration for what's to come in France and the level his team need to reach heading into the business end of the tournament – most immediately in their penultimate Pool A match with Italy on Sunday (NZ time).

"If you want to play with the best you've got to play at that level," he added. "We've shown glimpses throughout the year and this is where you need to do it. This is the tournament you all want to perform at.

"We know what that standard is now and we're pretty excited coming off that bye week to really show what we've got and the level we want to play at."

Wing Mark Telea agrees, saying: "We want to put the best performance out as a team and we know we can, and when you see matches like that you just get excited."

The All Blacks spent their off week in Bordeaux mixing pleasure with pain, where food and wine tasting was bookended by their most high-intensity hitouts since arriving in Europe – when more than few tempers flared.

"Last week tested a few boys at the ruck," Papali'i said with a telling grin. "Some of the boys got a bit hot-headed but that's the good thing about those weeks, you can practice and put that stuff to the test.

"We've all come out better for it and we needed a training week like that. I think the boys have put in the work and the boys have come out on top.

"We talked about how that was our time to get some gains in with our physical and our mental state, where we can get away from the game but also get the work done in areas we needed to improve."

Of course, all comments on the prospect of facing the Irish would have to wait until they'd dealt with the Italians this weekend, who have made huge strides under Kiwi coach Keiran Crowley.

Italy are playing with an attacking flare rarely seen from the Azzurri, riding high after their most competitive showing at a Six Nations in years.

"I've played them a couple of times and I've seen how fast they've improved," said Papali'i.  

"The two main things are how quickly they recycle their ball and they're also good at engaging defenders and passing at the line really late, opening up holes so players can go through.

"They've come a long way. They've always been good, but now they're a team where you've got to put your best foot forward against them because they're playing some bloody good footy.  

"We've got to respect them."