Ireland coach Andy Farrell says two humbling tour defeats in New Zealand and mounting injuries provide the ideal chance to assess who has World Cup credentials within his squad.
“There’s nothing like a tour of New Zealand to keep you on track and find out about yourselves,” said Farrell.
“Who can deal with pressure like this? Staff and players.”
Despite the tour falling at the end of the northern hemisphere season, Farrell insisted he won’t accept fatigue as an excuse.
“We’re to see if our players have got excuses or not in regards to backing up,” Farrell said.
“Doing it that way, to me, makes us stronger as a group. It makes us ready for what’s going to come our way over the next 18 months.”
Ireland lack clinical edge at Eden Park
Ireland go into next Saturday’s second Test knowing they must beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time if they are to maintain their chances of winning the three-match series.
Despite a promising start at Eden Park as Keith Earls scored the game’s first try, Ireland were overwhelmed by the hosts who scored four touchdowns in 17 first-half minutes to seize complete control of the contest, allowing them to hold the Irish at arm’s length in a more even second half.
However, the Irish lacked a clinical edge as they were held up by outstanding New Zealand defending on several occasions.
Farrell admitted this had been a factor in Saturday’s defeat but pointed to other key aspects – the scrum and breakdown – as areas where they struggled with the interpretation of English referee Karl Dickson.
The Ireland coach said he would make a point of highlighting issues with Jaco Peyper, the South African who will control the second Test in Dunedin.
Sexton must pass a further HIA on Monday
Captain Johnny Sexton, who was replaced in the first half with a head knock, must pass an additional assessment on Monday to be available for Dunedin.
Losing the veteran fly-half will be a significant setback although Farrell praised the bench contribution of playmaker Joey Carbery.
With James Hume having been ruled out of the rest of the tour – joined his Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson in having been ruled out of the rest of the tour, Stuart McCloskey has been called up as replacement.
Front-row injuries are counting to mount with prop Jeremy Loughman and hooker Dave Heffernan unavailable for Dunedin because concussion and another Rob Herring also a fitness concern.
Finlay Bealham was a late exclusion in Auckland with Covid and fellow prop Cian Healy wasn’t risked off the bench because of an ankle problem.
Adding to Farrell’s headaches, Leinster’s Ed Byrne was scheduled to arrive as front row cover on Saturday but a delayed flight resulted in a hasty call to New Zealand-based former Irish prop Michael Bent, 36, who raced to be on standby at Eden Park.
“There’s that much that’s gone on over the last 10 days, I can’t keep up with it myself,” Farrell said. “But that’s the game and we have to find out about ourselves.
“If we come away from this tour with five gems that we know can play at this level by being good examples day in-day out… then we’ve won on this tour.”