Matt Williams: Ireland must be perfect in every department to conquer All Blacks

Greatest test in world rugby awaits and Ireland have a chance to prove themselves

Ireland’s Andrew Porter faces the Haka before the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland’s Andrew Porter faces the Haka before the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

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Today, the Irish players have been given the rare gift of testing themselves against the best team on the planet - New Zealand.

On the wide expanses of the Aviva, this match will deeply examine the player’s fitness, skills and character. That is why we call it a ‘Test’ match.

In an era marred by stifling defence, endless scrums and our referees talking far longer on our TV screens than movie stars, (nine minutes and 32 seconds of TMO during France v Argentina) New Zealand have found a way to rise above. They have redesigned winning Test match rugby by playing all out, total attack. Every pass, kick and run is powered by the mindset of fighting to score tries.

The ease with which Ireland combined last week proved how potent a philosophy can be when it flows from province to national team

Their play has been inspirational, spectacular and extraordinarily successful. However, Ireland’s record at the Aviva means they cannot be dismissed and although the odds are great, victory is achievable. If Ireland can win, the rewards will be massive.

Defeating New Zealand can profoundly change players. The process that teams endure to prevail against New Zealand is so profound that by the end of the 80 minutes, the winning players walk off a better version of themselves than they were before the kick-off.

Ireland have made progress because Andy Farrell has finally got his selection and philosophy right. Selecting a team that is dominated by Leinster players and empowering them to play a version of Leinster’s attacking game plan is a dramatic change for the national team and a wise decision.

Leinster are in the elite of European clubs. To not use their successful style of play as a basis for the national team has been a major failing in Irish rugby for more than a decade. It should not be about egos, it’s about winning.

Beauden Barrett breaks free to score a try against Wales two weeks ago. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Beauden Barrett breaks free to score a try against Wales two weeks ago. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

The ease with which Ireland combined last week proved how potent a philosophy can be when it flows from province to national team. New Zealand follow that exact plan. Their national team play a version of their leading provincial teams’ philosophies. It works and it is smart coaching from Farrell to adopt it.

The most obvious improvement was the ease with which Ireland attacked. With some wonderful post-contact passing and support play, Ireland’s offloading destroyed the Japanese defence. It was right out of the Leinster playbook. Again, this was smart coaching from Farrell.

At this point, dear reader, you must take caution as we are getting ahead of ourselves. Japan were disappointingly poor and a mere shadow of their World Cup performances in 2019. They lacked aggression and self-belief.

The Kiwis will ignite extreme physicality into their tackle technique, aiming to slow the pace of the Irish ruck possession. Something the Japanese failed to do

New Zealand will be the polar opposite. The Kiwis dominated the Rugby Championship by playing rugby at an exceptionally fast game speed.

Jace Delaney, the director of performance and sports science at the Boston Celtics, defines game speed as “the ability to generate a high physical output during competition, without the significant compromise of the technical, tactical or psychological aspects of match play”.

In other words the Kiwis play with a superior physical intensity that creates a high speed game while maintaining excellent technique and decision making. New Zealand’s lightning fast game speed empowers them to play at a pace that their skills can handle, but opposition teams simply cannot.

Superior mental and physical skills are the foundation of the New Zealand game.

Statistically during the Rugby Championship New Zealand were in a class above. The Kiwis had the best defence, the most line breaks, the most tries, the most carries and scored the most points. Their points differential was +124. The Wallabies were the next best with a differential of -4. Staggering numbers.

Away from home the Kiwis always prioritise defence. Today they will aim to neutralise four key Irish strengths. The powerful Irish scrum and lineout will both be attacked. Especially Paul O’Connell’s lineout, which is in for its toughest examination. New Zealand will place maximum pressure on Rónan Kelleher’s throws.

Andrew Conway, Hugo Keenan and James Lowe can expect a barrage of bombs raining down their way. The New Zealanders predominately kick to their right hand side of the field, so Lowe is set for a major test.

Today fortress Aviva is the land of Irish opportunity. Ireland must glare the world’s best straight in the eye

The Kiwis will ignite extreme physicality into their tackle technique, aiming to slow the pace of the Irish ruck possession. Something the Japanese failed to do.

Lastly, the Kiwis will target Johnny Sexton. Sexton is an icon and richly deserves the wonderful accolades awarded to him after winning his 100th cap. His multiple trophy winning successes have been extraordinary. He rightly sits inside the pantheon of the all-time Irish greats. May he long continue to defy Father Time and astound us all. As a true champion, no player will be more excited about playing New Zealand than Sexton.

Today he is the lone Irish playmaker and New Zealand coach Ian Foster knows that if his team can shut down Sexton, they will shut down Ireland. It’s that simple.

Having only one playmaker in the starting XV is a serious weakness for Ireland because they cannot rope-a-dope New Zealand and hope to win. Penalty goals and defending will never be enough. For victory, Ireland must attack, run the ball and compete with relentless aggression. The Irish mantra must be ‘attack, contest and fight’.

Today fortress Aviva is the land of Irish opportunity. Ireland must glare the world’s best straight in the eye. Then channel the spirit of Willie Anderson and grab the challenge of the Haka. With 50,000 screaming banshees in the Irish corner, Ireland can show the world and themselves what they have as they take their shot at the title.

A true test match awaits.

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