As Ireland knows only too well, the chances of winning a Test in New Zealand are few and far between. A chance to win a series on Kiwi soil is even rarer.
reland are 80 minutes from missing out on another shot in history as they need a performance to last a lifetime to turn things around in tomorrow’s second Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
There were enough positives in last weekend’s performance to indicate they’re capable, but while it’s hard to imagine Ireland going that loose and sloppy again, the All Blacks will almost certainly be sharper themselves.
As has often been the case with Irish teams over the years, they find a way to deliver when their backs are against the wall.
That is exactly what happened in Australia four years ago, when Ireland overcame an early deficit to win the series 2-1.
Andy Farrell was part of the coaching ticket back then, so he knows exactly what’s needed, but repeating the feat on the All Blacks’ home ground will be decidedly more difficult.
Before Ireland even start planning a big surprise, they need to fix the glaring flaws that have seriously hampered them at Eden Park.
Never before has the old adage ‘no crowd, no victory’ been truer as Ireland look to find the solutions in just a week.
How much can realistically change in such a short space of time is up for debate, but after getting feedback from referee Jaco Peyper on what to expect from the scrum and collapse, Ireland feel in a better position.
Tadhg Beirne and Peter O’Mahony will hope to have much more impact on the ruck, while Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan expect big games.
Despite last week’s difficulties, panic has not descended on the Irish camp this week. Instead, it was acknowledged that apart from the opening quarter and second-half stages, they were well underperforming.
If Ireland can uncover another brilliant start and then sustain it longer, they’ll be in for a hoot.
Farrell’s men asked enough questions of the All Blacks’ defense to worry them again, although throwing difficult images at them tomorrow will be a major challenge.
“Everybody’s trying to come up with something a little bit different and tinker around a bit because you’re trying to outpace the opposition in some area,” Farrell said.
“But at the same time I know how we prepare. We’re preparing for all kinds of scenarios, and conveying that isn’t just about this week. It’s been about the last six months.
“You always expect a different twist on a game, whether it’s a chip over in the first period, whether it’s played from anywhere, or whatever it is.
“Whatever numbers people have in the backfield, there are always different images that you are looking for – and you would hope that your game would be adaptive enough to read and adapt to those images.”
The All Blacks have been putting a lot of emphasis on their defense this week because even if they scored six tries last weekend, conceding three isn’t good enough for a team that demands perfection.
Forsyth Barr Stadium isn’t the intimidating fortress that Eden Park is, yet the All Blacks have won 40 of 46 Test matches in Dunedin, lost five and drawn once.
The roof will ensure a fast-paced game that suits both sides, but Ireland will be careful not to be drawn into loose competition that plays into the hands of New Zealand.
Mack Hansen will be hoping to bring his usual X-factor on his return to the wing, but the Connacht man can also expect plenty of traffic on his channel.
“More of what he did before, but obviously he’s got more experience now, doesn’t he,” Farrell said of what he wants from Hansen.
“We were sad to miss him in the first test because he was on hiatus with Connacht and wasn’t there at the end of the season. He’d been training hard, getting fit and coming in to learn the lessons he’d done from previous camps we’ve had before and he looked sharp and ready to go.
“Obviously Covid has hit and it’s brought that to a halt for him, but he’s started his week of training very well again – and it’s reassuring to us that he’s ready to go.”
Even without the injured Sam Whitelock, the hosts are aiming for the Ireland line-up. Dalton Papalii adds an explosive threat to the back row, but he doesn’t offer the same lane threat as Scott Barrett switches to suspension.
All week Ireland’s players and coaches have been talking about staying calm under pressure after losing their heads in the heat last weekend.
“We’re working hard on that, especially with Garry Keegan (performance coach),” added Farrell.
“I honestly think, and I’ve told you before, that it’s on the mental side of the game that we can improve the most because the occasion is big in itself.
“The opponent’s level of play is of course of a very high quality – and you have to reach their emotional level to be able to survive, let alone attack the game.
“I assume you’re going to see the full package this week because the pressure is on us to keep the series alive, but how we deal with that pressure is the same.
“I suppose there’s obviously a little bit more pressure to keep the series alive – but at the same time to be able to be composed enough to play the game that we want to play and do it better than.” absolutely crucial last week.
“So it’s important not to overplay the emotional map, but at the same time when you get an opportunity in a game like this you have to take your chances, not just in terms of accuracy when scoring goals, but in terms of physicality as well.
“We’ll see if we can manage the pressure that is on us – and in this respect it will be priceless for us in the future.”
If Ireland don’t have the guts to fight, they will be ruthlessly exposed again and questions will linger until next year’s World Cup. On the other hand, they know what’s at stake.
Now it’s time to deliver.
Conclusion: New Zealand
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/international-rugby/well-see-if-we-have-the-stomach-for-the-pressure-thats-going-to-be-on-us-andy-farrell-41823579.html “We’ll see if we have the stomach for the pressure that’s on us” Andy Farrell