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Grand Slam success will leave All Blacks wary of the threat that Ireland pose

Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes believes the All Blacks will be looking anxiously over their shoulders.

OFF THE BACK of their Grand Slam success at the weekend, Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes believes the All Blacks will be looking anxiously over their shoulders at Ireland in the world rankings.

Kieran Read congratulates Rory Best New Zealand's Kieran Read congratulates Ireland's Rory Best after the clash in Chicago in 2016. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The top two sides in the world are due to meet in a mouthwatering clash at the Aviva Stadium in November, with Joe Schmidt’s charges intent on recording a second win over the Southern Hemisphere giants.

Less than a year out from a World Cup, it would be some statement of intent and would outline the lofty ambitions the national side now harbour after their dominant Six Nations campaign.

And, speaking ahead of his province’s trip to Cardiff this weekend, Gibbes reckons Steve Hansen will be all to aware of the threat Ireland will pose to New Zealand’s long standing reign at the top of the rankings.

“I think Ireland have not only landed a Grand Slam, but I think they were consistently the most cohesive and clinical team in that Six Nations,” the former All Black commended.

“I think what will grab New Zealand’s attention will be certainly they prepare well for every team there is no doubt about it.

“I think just that consistency of what Ireland have put together in the last couple of years, they are absolutely worthy of deep preparation as Steve Hansen’s a big fan of and worthy of total respect.”

Steve Hansen with Garry Ringrose New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen with Ireland's Garry Ringrose. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

However, for now he has to turn his attentions to Ulster’s visit to the Blues as he aims to ensure he leaves the province with European rugby next season before he returns to New Zealand to take up a role with Waikato.

It’s an unenviable task. After Edinburgh took down Munster last weekend and with Benetton having what looks to be a relatively simple run-in, there’s every possibility that the Challenge Cup could beckon next campaign.

Only six points separate fourth-placed Ulster and the Italians in fifth in Conference B of the Guinness PRO14, albeit the Kingspan outfit have a game in hand, but their wretched away record doesn’t instil any confidence.

But Gibbes is hopeful that the returning Irish heroes Jacob Stockdale and the recently re-signed Iain Henderson can provide the boost that will see Ulster over the line against Cardiff, who have quietly won four in a row.

Jacob Stockdale scores a try Ulster welcome back Irish try scoring hero Jacob Stockdale. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“To have them around is great, from what they have just experienced, what they have come through, and to have them back in the environment is a boost for us,” the head coach admitted.

“What part they will play straight away I do not know, but just having their quality around and the kind of guys they are, particularly the forwards the guys they are, and it is obviously an exciting period for Jacob given what he has gone through.”

Ulster will most certainly have to upset the form book to get the win though, given they haven’t won an away game since December – at Harlequins in the Champions Cup – and the Blues are on that unbeaten run.

Jono Gibbes Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes. Source: Jonathan Porter/INPHO

And, with trips to Edinburgh and Munster to finish the season, as well as home games against Glasgow and the Ospreys to come, there’s absolutely no wiggle room for the northern province, as Gibbes is painfully aware.

“We’ve had a pretty good discussion, no, a monologue – because only I talked!” Gibbes laughed, before adding more seriously: “My message to the group was we’ve got no margin of error, basically.

“That’s not necessarily results, you don’t automatically think of that, because there’s other teams playing and you don’t know what’s going to happen in rugby.

“I think we’ve just got to have no margin of error in our preparation so every day has got to be like a final preparation. That’s how deep we’ve got to go, how edgy our preparation’s got to be.

“Certainly we had a session yesterday that was good, and today, and certainly the signs are there that they understand what I mean by no margin for error in our preparation.”


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