Rugby World Cup: All Blacks wary of Irish microscope as quarter-final collision looms

So far in France, the All Blacks have stuck steadfastly to the age-old sporting mantra of 'one game at a time'.

With their 96-17 destruction of Italy now in the rear-view mirror, the New Zealanders will round out pool play against Uruguay in Lyon on Friday (NZ time).

But with a mouthwatering quarter-final match-up against Ireland likely looming immediately afterwards, there are clear indications that they're at least taking a glimpse over the precipice to the knockout rounds, where they remain on a collision course with an opponent who's been a thorn in their side.

Since Ireland's historic first test win against them in Chicago back in 2016, the All Blacks have only won three of their eight tests against the men from the Emerald Isle – and just one of their last four.

Riding a 13-game streak, Ireland still need to beat an improved Scotland in their final pool game lock in their bout with the All Blacks – a team they've won eight straight against since 2017.

Assistant coach Scott McLeod insists they're laser-focused on the South Americans, but admits there's a wealth of painful lessons waiting to be drawn upon for their gargantuan quarter-final.

Will Jordan.
Will Jordan. Photo credit: Getty Images

"We've played them a few times last year and they taught us a few lessons," said McLeod.  

"Those lessons are at the back of the mind there somewhere, [we've] just got to tap them forward when its time. We're just focusing on what we need to do.

"I know Ireland would've looked at us yesterday and seen a few opportunities, so if we fix up what we have to do and do that better, it makes it harder for them."

On Saturday, The All Blacks made the statement their fans – and the tournament – had been awaiting, laying down a long overdue marker with a 14-try rout of the Italians.  

But such a performance wouldn't earn them any extra leeway at their weekly video review sessions, where McLeod says players could expect a "harsh" rebuke, although the comb they'll use may be finer toothed than typical.

"In defence, they managed to get around us a little bit and that hurt us at different times," he said.

"We recovered from it but we don’t want to be painting those pictures so we're going to be really critical. Although there were a lot of good things, we've got to keep growing our game.

"We're going to be pretty harsh in the review about that. Players who didn't stand up and do what we said we were going to do and how we were going to do it, and we need some growth there

"We're still refining and being critical of our game and the execution of our game. We probably left a lot of points out there."

The All Blacks perceiving 96 points as insufficient doesn't bode well for the Uruguayans, who were soundly beaten 38-17 by the Italians in pool play.

But as they proved in their gallant 27-12 defeat to hosts France – sparked by fullback extraordinaire Gaston Mieres - they'll certainly be no pushovers.

"Their forwards are really passionate big men who carry well and their backs are very sharp," McLeod noted.

"They’ve got some dangerous runners – particularly their fullback, so we've got an eye on him."