There are plenty of precedents for believing all is not quite lost yet, that Ireland can rebound from last Saturday’s chastening first Test defeat when they meet New Zealand again next Saturday in Dunedin.
Eden Park to Christchurch in the first two Tests a decade ago when Ireland visited and Eden Park to Wellington five years ago when the Lions came to New Zealand spring to mind.
Many of this Irish team were also part of the odyssey to Oz in 2018 when they recovered from losing the first Test to achieve a memorable Series win.
“It is a very similar message that we are sending out this week compared to then,” said Robbie Henshaw yesterday after the squad’s training session in a North Harbour stadium which was submerged for the day in rain, along with the rest of Auckland.
“We just have to go out, give it our best shot and really go for it. We obviously have to tidy up a few bits at the set-piece and be more accurate and clinical and score tries off chances like we had last Saturday. Then it is a different game, a different scoreline.
“Those little bits, those mental errors that we had in the first half when they got three scores consecutively in a brief period. It would have been a different game in the second half if we had have been tidier around there, had we not given them easy access. It is all to play for. It is really about going for it this week and everyone stepping up.”
Although Peter O’Mahony brought his experience to bear, not least in his discussions with a Karl Dickson, the departure of Johnny Sexton left something of a shortfall in leadership, all the more so with Iain Henderson having gone home and Conor Murray on the bench.
Reflecting further on how the first Test slipped away from them, Henshaw made some candid admissions.
“The main thing was that we just needed to stay calm and not be too frantic or feel like we are chasing it. Being honest with you, we got that wrong. We were not calm. We don’t exit clean from our 22. We get turned over. Beauden Barrett puts the ball in behind us and it is another try,” said the Irish centre in reference to the Quinn Tupaea try off a turnover around the Irish 22.
“We didn’t action those words and we had that conversation this week that we need to be calmer and we need to be clinical in terms of getting out of our own half because they don’t play a lot in their own half. They turn the screw, they turn you around, their kicking game is good and then they turn you over. They play the majority of their rugby inside our half, so it is going to be important this week because we can’t do what we did last week. We had a hard meeting today.”
The failure to exit off a lineout in the build-up to that Tupaea try was highlighted in the meeting. Henshaw said: “That is not us. That is just not how we would like to exit. That was one of them. Then there were just another couple of clips, just our set-up in defence and how we were letting them have quick ball and then sometimes when we got it right, pointing out what it looked like and how we can apply pressure. So it was good on fix-up clips. We know it is not going to be perfect. We know these guys are top-class players, some of the best in the world and they will have their good patches in the game and we just need to accept that. We do the best we can.”
As a consequence, Henshaw accepted that players such as himself, who are one of the few relatively experienced tourists, had to assume more leadership and be more vocal.
“The management and senior guys have looked for everyone involved to add value and for us that is being able to lead, whether that is on the pitch, or if it is in training, or even off the pitch. Leadership takes many forms. It can be grabbing someone for a one-to-one chat, someone you need to share things with or give a bit of information.
“Personally I like it that way, when we are in a smaller group, when we have those conversations among the wider group. And then on the pitch it is about putting action into words, being the leader, you can talk all you want but you need action on the pitch. That is when you get it right.
“So, we are all aware we need to grab hold of it this week and lead.
“We want to go out and we want to play rugby and we want to be a brave team that wants to fire a shot. That is the balance. We want to play our style of rugby that has worked against these boys in November and in the Six Nations when we have got it right.
“It is great to play and great to watch, making sure our leaders and our guys who are calling the shots on the pitch, that we do it, that we get it right.”
Under Farrell, Ireland have won 15 out of 16 at home, but secured just three away wins out of nine.
“When you read stats like that you realise that every team playing at home is a different team,” said Henshaw. “You know that playing against them. I didn’t think Eden Park was an excuse for us, we were going to do a job and starting that first 20 minutes, it definitely felt good. We were humming. It is just momentum swings. It is a mental thing as well that we need to get right and be ready for, know that away games are a different kettle of fish. Touring too is different. This is a lot of guys’ first tour. I was here in 2017 and I knew what I had to be ready for.”