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Irish skipper lauds in-form All Blacks

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 4/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Ireland skipper Rory Best has stopped short of calling the All Blacks the finest team of all time but says they'd have to be awfully close.

Best, 34, will lead his side into battle in Chicago on Saturday, hoping to snare Ireland's first ever Test win against their Kiwi foes.

The Irish have lost 27 Tests and drawn one since 1905, and most recently fell inches short when falling 24-22 to a last-gasp sideline conversion in 2013.

However the Joe Schmidt-coached outfit come into their first match of the northern season in fresher shape and buoyed by positive performances against South Africa in June.

Best told reporters on Friday his side respected everything the All Blacks had achieved in the past 12 months; securing a second consecutive World Cup and a record 18 straight Test wins.

But he declined to christen them the best Test outfit of all time, deferring to former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick's judgement on the matter.

Fitzpatrick, a 1987 World Cup winner, said in September that coach Steve Hansen had taken his troops to another level with their 2016 performances, particularly in the Rugby Championship.

"It's kind of hard comparing teams back through generations but there's no doubt this All Blacks team is extremely talented," Best said.

"I've heard Sean Fitzpatrick's compared them.

"If he's saying they're the best team there's ever been, they've got to be very close to it."

Chicago has been beset by baseball fever over the past week as the local Cubs clinched their first World Series in 108 years on Wednesday evening.

Best admitted the baseball-mania had been a distraction, with an open-top parade shutting down the city on Friday, but refused to use it as an excuse.

"When we get little bits of downtime, we must make sure that in the back of our mind, there's always the task ahead."

Schmidt has made several changes for the Chicago Test, with fullback Rob Kearney returning to the run-on side and Kiwi-born Jared Payne shifting to centre.

CJ Stander and Jordi Murphy will line up on either side of the scrum, while the uncapped duo of New Zealand-born Joey Carbery and Garry Ringrose will start from the bench.

Best said his side would have a game plan and stick to it against the All Blacks, but look to switch things if necessary.

"You've got to minimise how many unforced errors you have," he said.

"They're going to create chances but you can't then gift them chances on top of that."

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