Ireland captain Johnny Sexton is braced to face a wounded New Zealand side plotting revenge in a mouthwatering Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Andy Farrell’s men have topped the Test rankings since securing a landmark tour success against the All Blacks last summer.
Ireland set up another meeting with the three-time world champions by dismantling Scotland 36-14 on Saturday evening in Paris to win Pool B ahead of South Africa.
“They’ve already said it’s one that they want and when they’re hurting and they want to put it right, that’s the biggest challenge in rugby, to try and beat them when they’re in that frame of mind,” Sexton said of New Zealand.
“Two teams will both be under pressure for different reasons and it will be who copes with that the best and who can put their game out there on the biggest day when the pressure is on.
“We’ve played New Zealand plenty of times and they’ve come into some good form themselves over the last few weeks.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game and we just need to prepare right over the next few days and get the best performance we can out there.
“We need to be ready for it.”
Fly-half Sexton, who is due to retire after the tournament, prolonged his career by at least one more week by leading his country to a thumping Stade de France success which eliminated Scotland.
Ireland emphatically banished any fears of suffering their own early exit thanks to first-half tries from James Lowe and Iain Henderson, plus Hugo Keenan’s double, before Dan Sheehan and Garry Ringrose added to the Scots’ misery.
While Farrell’s side move on to a showdown with the All Blacks, the Springboks will take on hosts France in another tantalising last-eight clash.
“We always knew most likely we’d play France or New Zealand,” said 38-year-old Sexton. “There’s no easy option there.
“All our focus was, ‘let’s win the pool’. You don’t pick and choose, you just do your best.
“We’re exactly where we wanted to be in terms of we won the pool and now we’re into the quarter-final.”
Ireland have injury concerns regarding wings Mack Hansen, Lowe and Keith Earls and lock James Ryan.
Head coach Farrell feels there is more to come from his in-form team and urged his players to embrace the upcoming challenge, describing it as “proper living”.
“I don’t think and neither do the team think that we’ve played our best rugby yet,” said the Englishman, following a 17th successive Test victory.
“We know where we want to go and want we’re trying to achieve. Will we ever get there? I don’t know.
“It’s days like next week that’s coming where we need to find out a little bit more about ourselves. These lads are certainly willing to do that.
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“We’ll treat this week, I’m sure once we recover properly, with a spring in our step because if you can’t get excited about what’s coming…this is proper living now.
“This is exactly where you want to be and these boys have been waiting for opportunities, big games to show what they’ve learnt for a while now.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than next week so we’ll relish that.”