Three reasons to believe Ireland's wait to beat the All-Blacks will end this weekend
Some say we blew our chance, others that the All-Blacks won’t be as bad again, but there are reasons to be believe we can finally beat the World Champions this weekend.
(For)Get Carter... and Kieran Read too
Yes, the All-Blacks are the best team in the world and yes, they have more strength in depth than any other team in the world, but no team could help but be in some way affected by the loss of the best player on the planet, Dan Carter.
Aaron Cruden is a fine replacement and there have been hints that Carter will eventually be shifted to inside centre to accommodate him in the first XV, but New Zealand were a different team without Carter at the World Cup, even if Cruden was particularly unlucky to pick up an injury, leaving the drastically out of shape Stephen Donald to pick up all the plaudits in the final.
Carter’s absence is a major boost for Ireland, but not having to face Kieran Read is also huge. One of the most athletic number eights in the business, the Irish players must have been delighted to see him fail to reappear for the second half in Christchurch.
If nothing else, Ireland should be at least be far more competitive from restarts on Saturday morning because Read and Carter had developed a telepathic understanding and Read nearly scored a try directly from kick off on the first day. Ireland will miss Jamie Heaslip and Gordon D’Arcy tomorrow, let’s hope that New Zealand miss their walking wounded more than we do.
The form of Brian O’Driscoll
Six or seven months ago, questions were being asked about Brian O’Driscoll’s capacity to ever play rugby again. Now, he’s being touted to fulfil the role of Lions captain once again and maybe even playing in another World Cup for Ireland. We should never have doubted him but we did, and now that he’s free of a long standing shoulder complaint he’s playing some of the best rugby of his career.
Ronan O’Gara revealed during the week that the skipper had been dubbed ‘Maggsy’ after last Saturday’s test because his numerous crash ball sorties evoked memories of his former centre partner Kevin Maggs. The fact that he appeared to take on more ball and more responsibility the longer the game went on speaks volumes for his fitness and durability.
His defence is as good as ever, he’s constantly breaking the line and while it’s disappointing that there are often no takers for O’Driscoll’s readily available offloads, that’s hardly his fault. The hurt on his face was clearly evident in the emotional post-match interview last weekend and hopefully he can channel that to deliver one last big performance in what will almost certainly be his last game in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Three months after our set-piece was taken apart in Twickenham, we didn’t think we’d be talking about the scrum as an area of strength again, but it has held up extremely well in the two tests to date.
With Declan Fitzpatrick and Ronan Loughney both acquitting themselves well, the scrum was compotent in Auckland the first day, but by the end of the second test in Christchurch it was an area that Ireland were firmly on top.
Pity for Ireland then that Nigel Owens had to go and destroy all Ireland’s good work with the most dubious of calls that eventually led to Dan Carter’s winning drop goal. I’m no expert of the intricacies of the scrum but when someone supposed to be in the know says “that wheel isn’t straight” – then there’s something amiss.
Had Owens done right by Ireland, we would have had a penalty and perhaps gone on to win the game, but that’s another what if emanating from what was a hugely frustrating result.
Before that decision, the Irish scrum had really upset the All-Black equivalent and they can take a lot of heart from their display going into tomorrow’s encounter.