Rugby World Cup: All Blacks playing to keep legends' careers alive with quarter-final against Ireland

Come the final whistle of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup campaign - whenever that may be - New Zealand will say goodbye to a core of its all-time great players.

For those staying in Aotearoa for 2024 and beyond, the drive to give their teammates another week as All Blacks is a key motivator for Sunday's (NZ time) quarter-final against Ireland.

The likes of Sam Whitelock, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Smith have all signed overseas contracts to play in Europe and Japan, and will therefore be ineligible for All Blacks selection next year.

Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith hold the Bledisloe Cup with captain Sam Cane.
Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith hold the Bledisloe Cup with captain Sam Cane. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hooker Dane Coles will retire altogether, while Shannon Frizell and Leicester Fainga'anuku will also be unavailable on short-term overseas deals.

Richie Mo'unga's future is unknown, after he signed a three-year deal to play in Japan next season, but could conceivably return at its fulfillment.  

With the All Blacks' place in the knockout stage secure, every week takes on a new meaning for the class of those not to return.

Win and their careers extend for another week at least, as the All Blacks push for a shot at their fourth Webb Ellis Cup. Lose though and some of the most influential All Blacks ever will say goodbye to the black jersey, as they take the next and, in some cases, final steps of their careers.

For those players with plenty of time left in their All Blacks careers, extending those facing uncertainty is a major motivator. 

"It would be huge," said winger Will Jordan. "We've got a large number of guys who've given a lot to the jersey and who are in their final campaign.

"You can see, through their actions and their care towards the jersey, what it means to them.

"Certainly, that motivates us to keep them going. Everyone's got their own motivations around what they want to achieve, but that's definitely a big one for a lot of us."

Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are both calling time on their All Blacks careers.
Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are both calling time on their All Blacks careers. Photo credit: Photosport

Ireland are in the same boat, with captain Johnny Sexton also calling time on his career and in control of his country's best chance to win a World Cup, starting with a first quarter-final victory.  

Helping the Irish, are three Kiwis who've made the Emerald Isle their home.

Winger James Lowe, centre Bundee Aki and halfback Jamison Gibson-Park will all start for Ireland, after tasting success against their country of origin in the 2022 series win.

None had realistic opportunities to become All Blacks, but have all more than made up for lost time wearing the green of Ireland, instead of the black of their homeland.

For Jordan, who'll be directly up against Lowe on Sunday, the quarter-final will be a trip down memory lane, after the pair shared the field with Tasman Mako in the NPC.

"J-Lowe is a very diverse winger and footballer," Jordan added. "He's really rounded his game well.

"They use him to exit a lot with his left foot and he pops up around the park as well. He used to give me plenty of stick when we were at Tasman, so there might be a bit of chipping going on, but he's a quality player.

"He'll pop up all over the park. [We need to] try to limit his involvement as much as possible."

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