Ronan Kelleher will treat ‘biggest game of career’ like any other Ireland match

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Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher admits a “do or die” Rugby World Cup quarter-final with New Zealand is the stuff of dreams but plans to treat the biggest game of his career like any other.

Andy Farrell’s men set up a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with the three-time champions by stretching their remarkable winning run to 17 games to top Pool B ahead of title holders South Africa.

Yet Ireland have never reached a World Cup semi-final and were stuffed 46-14 by the formidable All Blacks at the same stage four years ago in Japan.

Tournament debutant Kelleher won the first of his 25 international caps immediately after his country’s emphatic exit in Tokyo, having being selected for the 2020 Six Nations campaign by head coach Farrell.

“I suppose it is something you’d dream about, on the big stage, probably the biggest game of my career so far,” the 25-year-old said of facing the Kiwis.

“As we’ve chatted throughout the week with the lads, you have to take each game as it comes.

“You just have to play the game in front of you and for me personally it’ll be treated like another Test match, just make sure I get across all my detail and preparation and, if selected, make sure I’m able to do a job.

“We know it’s going to be a massive challenge, a huge Test match but one we’re really looking forward to. It’s obviously do or die.”

Ireland have won three of four meetings against New Zealand during Farrell’s reign.

Kelleher was part of the team which defeated the All Blacks 29-20 in November 2021 before missing last summer’s 2-1 tour success through injury.

Overall, the Six Nations champions have been victorious in five of the past eight matches between the nations, including a historic first win in Chicago in 2016 under Joe Schmidt.

Kelleher was still a schoolboy back then and suggested the run of results has helped to diminish the aura around the All Blacks.

“Yeah, I suppose,” he said. “But obviously we know how good a team they are and particularly how they play in big tournaments.

“I’m just looking forward to this weekend, we know it’s going to be a massive challenge, a huge Test match, but one we’re really looking forward to.”

Kelleher is likely to provide back up for Leinster team-mate Dan Sheehan at Stade de France after performing that role in Saturday’s 36-14 success over Scotland.

His absence from last year’s series in New Zealand came amid a string of frustrating injury setbacks which he now hopes are behind him.

“It’s great to be back out there,” he said.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to get some time in each of the games so far, so I’ve been absolutely delighted with that.

“As far as contributing, it’s been absolutely great. It’s about keeping that momentum going forward and we’re happy with where we are at the moment.”

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