The theory goes that the All Blacks are traditionally rusty in their seasonal opener and thus should only improve from last Saturday’s convincing 42-19 win in the first Test In Auckland. But Andy Farrell firmly believes his Irish side will also improve markedly in next Saturday’s Second Test in Dunedin.
There are also some crumbs of comfort to be drawn from history too. When last here a decade ago, Ireland lost the first Test in Eden Park by 42-10 and the omens looked grim for the second Test in Christchurch, but they came within some contentious scrummaging interpretations by Nigel Owens of a famous win before losing 22-19.
The All Blacks won the first Test against the British & Irish Lions five years ago by 30-15 in Eden Park before the tourists surprised them a week later in Wellington.
“I know the group. I know how they feel,” said Farrell in the aftermath of Saturday’s first Test. “They’re not dejected in there. They feel like it’s an opportunity missed, but at the same time, they know what they did well.
“There is obviously a feeling of the reasons why they [New Zealand] got the opportunities to score because they play some great rugby. I suppose that goes for both changing rooms, doesn’t it? Everyone knows the truth. So, therefore we can take heart from things.
“But, having said that, there is plenty that we need to fix up as well – set-piece wise, being clinical when getting over the try line and making sure that we stay disciplined throughout are the three things that we need to address.”
With regard to the Irish set-piece, forwards coach Paul O’Connell yesterday admitted: “It was poor last night, there is no doubt about it.”
Ireland effectively lost five of their 17 throws, while three scrum penalties contributed to a 10-7 tally in the home side’s favour until a flurry of seven late penalties to Ireland from referee Karl Dickson.
Helpfully perhaps, the second Maoris’ game doesn’t take place until the final week. For once too, it didn’t rain on the Saturday of a Test match in Auckland, and no matter the weather, the closed roof in the FMG Stadium ensures the second Test will be unaffected by any rain.
“Well, we are playing in Dunedin and there is no rain there, even though there is plenty of rain,” said Farrell in reference to both the closed roof at the FMG Stadium in Dunedin and winter time in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
“The stadium is awesome, I don’t know why other countries don’t adopt the same kind of scenario. It’s a fantastic stadium, guaranteed [to be] dry. I think the contest will be a good one again next week.”
Nonetheless, not only are Ireland now up against the ropes, but they are the more battle-wounded physically as well. Johnny Sexton was forced off in the 31st minute in the aftermath of Sevu Reece’s breakaway try in a wounding double whammy.
This was at the behest of the independent doctor, who may well have been extra cautious in light of the furore surrounding the Jeremy Loughman concussive episode in last Wednesday’s game against the Maori All Blacks.
But Farrell said the Irish captain was in very good spirits, had passed his HIA 2 and if he passes his HIA 3 will be fit to lead Ireland next Saturday.
However, the front row stocks seemed bare when the squad was announced, with just three players per position, and they look even skimpier now. Dave Heffernan’s concussion last Saturday rules him out of the second Test although Rob Herring should join Dan Sheehan and late call-up Niall Scannell in the mix.
With Loughman also sidelined, Ed Byrne has also arrived as a late call-up, while on the tighthead side Finlay Bealham was ruled out of the first Test with Covid, all of which meant Michael Bent was brought in to help with preparations.
But whereas none of the starting All Blacks forwards went more than an hour, Andrew Porter went the full 80, Sheehan played 76 minutes and Tadhg Furlong 68, with Cian Healy clearly only on the bench in case of an emergency after injuring his left ankle in the Maoris’ game.
“He has fought tooth and nail to do everything for his team-mates to get back fit and if required he would have been on there and done a sterling job.
“But, it’s a few days’ turnaround and [there is] a bit of swelling to the ankle [so it] would help him for the rest of the tour and to make sure that gets a little bit more rest; but I can’t thank him enough for his efforts this week.”
Stuart McCloskey has also arrived as a replacement for his unfortunate Ulster team-mate James Hume, whose groin injury has ended his tour.