NZ Ireland Preview

11 06 2010

Ireland have had less than ideal preparation for this encounter and it comes at the tail end of an arduous season. Injuries have been prolific and the pack in particular looks weakened. Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks and they would have hoped to come into this encounter all guns blazing as this is not a vintage All Black side.

The All Blacks have suffered injuries themselves, missing the likes of Andrew Hore, Ali Williams, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Ma’a Nonu. There are three new caps in their side including Benson Stanley at inside centre and this is an area Ireland will definitely target.

Realistically, we will more than likely struggle at scrum time so they will look to use off-the-top line out ball and attack the New Zealand centres. It makes sense for Ireland to play to their strengths and their strengths in this encounter lie out wide. Looking at the team sheet it is the likes of Kearney, Bowe, O’Driscoll and Heaslip who will frighten the opposition and it is imperative to get these players into the game.

Benson Stanley and Conrad Smith are both talented centres; Smith in particular has great hands and awareness. However, with quick ball, you would definitely fancy the Irish centres to cause some damage here. D’Arcy’s form has been impressive of late and his running game looks to be in good nick. He will look to expose the New Zealand debutant and punch some holes in their defence. Nonu is a big loss for the All Blacks as they often look for him to get them over the gain line. Conrad Smith has a classy touch but he won’t be steamrolling over the Irish cover.

O’Gara will also be looking to bring Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble off their wings and into play as mush as possible. Both are strong, dynamic runners and Bowe in particular can seize upon the slightest gap with devastating effect. It is usually these types of games in the Southern Hemisphere where Rob Kearney delivers his best form and how Ireland would appreciate that. In truth the Irish backline has a dangerous look to it and are certainly capable of creating problems for the All Blacks. It will be intriguing to see if Ireland deploy a counter attacking game from deep here but somehow it seems unlikely.

The decision to go with O’Gara had probably more to do with his experience than anything as this is unknown territory for Sexton. Kidney will bank on O’Gara to play an intelligent game, pushing Ireland into the right areas through his boot and then sending his strike runners into space. It must have been a tough call for Irish management but the logic is there for all to see. O’Gara has played against the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter before down here and will know what is coming.

For Ireland to have a chance of succeeding, the line-out must function well as this will more than likely be their only source of quality set-piece ball. It is now a presumption that the scrum will struggle and the Franks brothers at tight and loose head for New Zealand will fancy this one. The absence of Paul O’Connell and even Leo Cullen will be sorely missed at line out time and it once again poses the question: What about Bob Casey? He is a big, physical lock who is a leader and a great lineout operator. Surely the type of player we could have used on this tour given the injuries we have? I appreciate Kidney is trying bring in fresh blood but picking Casey on this tour does not tie your hands into picking him for every subsequent game.

Given injuries and fatigue, this looks a long shot for Ireland but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. This is because, although strong, this is not the greatest All Black side of the modern era. The line-out must operate to maximum capacity and we could also do with a semi-solid scrum. The pack will need to work ferociously to quell New Zealand at the breakdown and our backs must be at their dynamic best. If all this comes to fruition, we have a chance. Otherwise, it could be a long eighty minutes.

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