Top 10: The best of our writers ahead of Ireland v All Blacks
From Gordon D’Arcy and Gregor Paul to a delve through the archives, it’s all here
IWill Addison and Tadhg Beirne in Ireland training ahead of the Guinness Series meeting with the All Blacks. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It’s arguably the biggest game of the year. The number one ranked team in the world against the number two ranked team in the world at a packed Aviva Stadium under the lights. It doesn’t get much bigger and, while Ireland can’t go to number one in the world officially, a win on Saturday will put Joe Schmidt’s men down as the best team in the world at this moment in time in a lot of people’s minds. Last weekend’s win over Argentina was a rather scrappy affair and Ireland will need to perform better to beat this week’s opponents but, as Gerry Thornley writes, there were some issues resolved. “Ireland’s hard-earned 28-17 win over Argentina last Saturday – a record tenth in a row at home – may have highlighted but also resolved a few issues for Schmidt prior to next Saturday’s eagerly awaited rendezvous with New Zealand,” he writes.
And then the jibes began. One of the most read articles on The Irish Times website all week was a column by New Zealand Herald journalist Gregor Paul which certainly ruffled a few feathers. In it he calls out the fact that, despite some of the top nations in the world having Kiwis among their ranks, the All Blacks are still the best. As Paul writes: “The concept of scouring the world as part of the national side’s succession planning is also one that is little loved in New Zealand, where the All Blacks have shown a remarkable capacity in the last two years to dig into their own talent pool and build the next generation of Test stars.”
It was the moment that will be remembered above all others when the All Blacks are mentioned in Ireland – possibly even more so than the 2016 win in Chicago. It’s been 13 years now since the Lions travelled south to meet New Zealand in a three Test series with Brian O’Driscoll as captain. However, the Irishman’s playing part in the tour was over before it even started when he was speared by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu, dislocating his shoulder in the process. Last week in Dublin the pair met to bury the hatchet and Gerry Thornley was there. “It was one of those things. Was it unfortunate? Yeah. Should you have dealt with it slightly differently? Yeah. You’ve got to move on. You can’t bring those sorts of things through life. Listen, we’re able to have a laugh and take the piss about it now, properly,” O’Driscoll said.
Later this month the World Rugby Player of the Year gong will be handed out and Johnny Sexton is in line to become the first Irishman since Keith Wood in 2001 to claim the crown. However, this weekend he will come up against fellow nominee Beauden Barrett while the also shortlisted Reiko Ioane prowls the left touchline. Sexton knows that the outcome of this game could well decide who picks up the award but that is not something he is focusing on, as he told Gavin Cummiskey.
Ireland and the All Blacks have a long and storied history with the southern hemisphere side holding the upper hand on all but that one occasion in Chicago. There have been some famous games down the years between the two sides and all this week Keith Duggan has been recounting some of the best, beginning with New Zealand’s trip to Ireland in 1963 which very nearly saw the home side come out on top. “Ireland defied every expectation. Terence de Vere White was among the crowd and felt tentative as he watched “our 15 selected victims run onto the field for sacrifice”, glumly weighing up the Irish chances: “Six stone lighter in the pack, outpaced in the backs: what chance had they?” he writes.
It’s just a year away now from Japan and, while Ireland could well go into the tournament with their best ever chance of emerging victorious, Gerry Thornley writes that for this week we must say sod the World Cup. New Zealand are in town and a de facto place as the world’s best team is up for grabs. While the result could have some standing come next year this is a game that is plenty big enough to stand on its own two feet.
As always these days, given the strength in depth that Ireland have at their disposal, there are selection headaches all over the pitch for Joe Schmidt. The Kiwi will name his side on Thursday but, before that, we asked Gerry Thornley, Gavin Cummiskey, John O’Sullivan, Johnny Watterson and Liam Toland to pick what would be their starting 15s.
For part two of our look back through the years of Ireland’s history with the All Blacks we go all the way back to 1905 and the first time a New Zealand team toured abroad. The first tour set off from Wellington on July 30th and arrived in Plymouth harbour 42 days later. Along the way they would play the kingpins of the English game – Devon – and dispatch of them easily. This was the making of a legend and they also cast aside Ireland on their ruthless path through the northern hemisphere on a tour that would coin the term ‘All Blacks’ and one one which they would score a total of 976 points and cough up a measly 59. Among them was the original All Black and Donegal native David Gallaher whose home the 2005 All Blacks team would visit on their tour of Ireland.
He’s modest and patient but he is ready to rip Ireland's heart out. Beauden Barrett is one of the world’s very best players and he is determined to show it on Saturday, cementing his place as the world leader along the way. The World Player of the Year for the last two years running comes to Dublin ready to face the possible successor to his crown, Johnny Sexton. On Tuesday Barrett was full of compliments when he spoke to the assembled press but, come Saturday, he will be ready to tear the heart out of Ireland.
For part three of our trip down memory lane we reach the most unsavoury of memories but one that very nearly reaped a first ever Ireland win. In 1973 Dublin was a volatile place with Scotland and Wales both refusing to travel for Five Nations games due to threats from the IRA. While the official organisation contacted the All Blacks to say they would be safe from them on their tour, they did stipulate that they couldn’t speak for the ‘Provos’. It was with trepidation that the greatest team in the world came to Dublin for a match that would end with Barry McGann’s last minute conversion sailing just wide, allowing New Zealand to get away with a draw. At the same time, a bomb exploded on Sackville Place killing Tommy Douglas, a young bus conductor.