Last chance saloon for Ireland
RUGBY THIRD TEST New Zealand v Ireland:IRELAND WENT into a record 17th Test of the season desperately seeking a first ever win over New Zealand and buoyed by their strongest showing in 20 years against the All Blacks last week, but also wary of a backlash from the world champions.
This being their last chance here for, most probably, another dozen years, not only Brian O’Driscoll (in his 12th attempt) was drinking from the last chance saloon hereabouts. As the entire squad thus fell into that category, they had every motivation to avoid one of those anti-climactic finales to end-of-season tours.
The home side were showing four changes in personnel from the second Test, and Ireland three, the most significant being the injuries which ruled out the respective number eights, Kieron Read and Jamie Heaslip, and of course, Dan Carter. Most eyes, to begin with anyway, would therefore be trailing Aaron Cruden.
Admittedly, the All Blacks had never lost in Cruden’s previous 10 Test appearances, and he has started every match in the Waikato Chiefs’ charge to the top of the Super 15 standings, landing an impressive 88 per cent of his place kicks and, at his home stadium, was renewing his 10-12 axis with Sonny Bill Williams as well as the two promoted flankers, Liam Messam and Sam Cane.
To put Carter’s absence further into perspective, New Zealand have an 88 per cent winning record with him involved, and 81 per cent without him. Nevertheless, this was Cruden’s first test as goal-kicker, while Carter’s tackling, no less than Jonathan Sexton, was immense in the first two Tests.
The All Blacks’ breakdown work was likely to be sharpened by Cane joining Richie McCaw in the back-row, although Kevin McLaughlin also gave Ireland some impressive ballast there in tandem with Seán O’Brien, whose reinvention as an openside this season has given the lie to the notion he cannot play there.
So Peter O’Mahony was at eight and Chris Henry promoted for what was sure to be an important last quarter cameo.
Ireland would not be faced with the Carter-Read restart gambit from left to right, but the quality and importance of restarts in influencing the ebb and flow of the previous two Tests were an eye-opener for the tourists.
Set-pieces were likely to be pivotal again and with heavy rain forecast for much of the day and night, especially the scrums, with the All Blacks sure to respond angrily after the indignities heaped upon them in the final quarter last week. Cue, too, Romain Poite, who was sure to be a significant figure.
“The other night we were better on our basics and it put us in front of them at stages and gave us a chance to be more physical,” said Kiss. “Last week is last week and the importance of that game only means something if we build on it. What we’ve looked at this week is some areas that we can ramp up.”
NEW ZEALAND: I Dagg; B Smith, C Smith, S B Williams, H Gear; A Cruden, A Smith; T Woodcock, A Hore, O Franks, L Romano, S Whitelock, L Messam, S Cane, R McCaw. Replacements: K Mealamu, B Franks, B Retallick, A Thomson, P Weepu, B Barrett, T Ellison.
IRELAND: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, P Wallace, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Tuohy, D Ryan, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, P O’Mahony. Replacements: S Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, D O’Callaghan, C Henry, E Reddan, R O’Gara, A Trimble.
Referee: Romain Poite(France).
Betting(Paddy Powers): 1/12 New Zealand, 35/1 Draw, 11/2 Ireland. Handicap odds (Ireland +15 pts) Evens New Zealand, 25/1 Draw, Evens Ireland.
Forecast: Ireland to beat the handicap. New Zealand to win.