Sam Whitelock and Tadhg Beirne’s second-row battle could decide Test series

New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock, right, has overcome concussion to resume his long-term second-row partnership with Brodie Retallick, left (Ashley Western/PA)

New Zealand and Ireland meet on Saturday for a mouth-watering series decider at Sky Stadium in Wellington.

The formidable All Blacks cruised to victory in the opening Test in Auckland a fortnight ago before falling to a first home defeat to the Irish last weekend in Dunedin.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at an intriguing second-row battle which could have a major bearing on the outcome of the series.

Sam Whitelock – Crusaders

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Position: LockAge: 33Caps: 133Debut: versus Ireland, 2010Height: 6′ 7”Weight: 20st 13lbsPoints: 30 (six tries)

Only the great Richie McCaw now has more All Blacks caps than the influential Whitelock. The 33-year-old, who was forced to sit out his side’s dismal display in Dunedin due to a delayed concussion, sets the standards for the hosts and possesses remarkable rugby intelligence. His return provides a much-needed boost and timely injection of experience for the Kiwis as he starts alongside long-term partner Brodie Retallick for the 61st time at this level. Half of Whitelock’s international tries came across two meetings with Ireland during his debut year in 2010. Undoubtedly a game-changer, he was recently hailed as a “modern-day Paul O’Connell” by Ronan O’Gara and will be intent on inflicting more misery on the Irish.

Tadhg Beirne – Munster

https://www.instagram.com/p/Cf0d6SnKNyT

Position: LockAge: 30Caps: 32Debut: versus Australia, 2018Height: 6′ 6”Weight: 17st 9lbsPoints: 30 (six tries)

Beirne has progressed from the periphery of the international setup to become one of Ireland’s top performers of the Andy Farrell era. The standout form which earned the 30-year-old a spot on last year’s British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa extended through the autumn and this year’s Six Nations, culminating in his star showing during last week’s landmark second Test victory. Accomplished in any position across the back five of the scrum, Beirne is an imposing figure capable of grabbing games by the scruff of the neck. He is a tackling machine – as evidenced last weekend – a menace at the breakdown, and possesses enviable athleticism, in addition to relentless work-rate.

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