Ireland braced for another thorough examination
IRELAND WENT into today’s second of three Tests against the All Blacks bracing themselves for another perfect storm. While the rains were forecast to have relented somewhat in the afternoon, conditions were still expected to be bitterly cold, breezy and showery in the redeveloped AMI Stadium, with the All Blacks intent on putting on a show for the rugby public in this earthquake-battered city.
Acclimatising themselves to the unrelentingly higher tempo set by the All Blacks in better conditions at Eden Park proved too big an ask, with Ireland particularly culpable in committing turnovers – which is when the All Blacks strike more stealthily than anyone else in the game, including the French.
The hope, and the resolve, is that having been exposed to this Ireland will be more accurate and up to speed a week on for, as Declan Kidney acknowledged in the build-up to this second Test, it is inevitable a World Cup-winning side infused with some brilliant new talent invariably will improve by about 10-15 per cent, which means Ireland have to make a quantum improvement.
Irish players are used to playing in capricious winter evenings but then so too, of course, are New Zealanders, and their desire to play a running game will not be hugely diluted by the weather, not least as New Zealand pitches hold up so well.
That said, there was talk from both camps of more “kick-chase” in this Test, with the respective back threes liable to be tested more in the air. This oughtn’t to inconvenience Rob Kearney, peerless in this regard, after a first Test in which he noted he made nine tackles – more than in the whole Six Nations.
Ireland received a further boost when Mike Ross trained fully in yesterday’s captain’s run.
Much will hinge around attitude and desire, though in recalling the passion his players brought into their World Cup pool meeting with Australia in Eden Park at the World Cup, Les Kiss maintained “we would have won whether it was wet or dry”.
But, he added: “You still have to ensure you don’t make silly turnovers, you still have to ensure you make your one-on-one tackles, and you still have to bring technical efficiency in international rugby whether it’s wet or dry.”
Overall head-to-head: Played 25, New Zealand 24 wins, 1 draw, Ireland 0 wins.
Last six meetings: (2006) New Zealand 27 Ireland 17; (2008) New Zealand 21 Ireland 11; Ireland 3 New Zealand 22; (2010) New Zealand 66 Ireland 28; Ireland 18 New Zealand 38 (2012) New Zealand 42 Ireland 10.
Betting (Paddy Powers): 1/40 New Zealand, 40/1 Draw, 13/2 Ireland. Handicap odds (Ireland +23 pts) 10/11 New Zealand, 25/1 Draw, 10/11 Ireland.
Forecast: New Zealand to win.