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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 10 December, 2018
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No 2016 grudging, just respect as All Blacks pitch up in Dublin

‘You don’t need to dip into the past to find a desire to play and play well.’

Beauden Barrett in the gym in the Institute of Sport yesterday.
Beauden Barrett in the gym in the Institute of Sport yesterday.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE ALL BLACKS are doing their best to keep their history behind them, though there are no shortage of reminders when the many cameras and microphones that follow their tour are switched on.

In some way, it has always been this way. But there is a different, pained expression on Kiwi faces when they acknowledge Chicago 2016.

The Ireland who the All Blacks knew, and loved beating, for 111 years are now a different proposition, a date on the fixture-list to be highlighted rather than a gimme win where new caps might be blooded.

This is a week for the tried and trusted and only the odd bright brilliant youth among the grizzled experience.

The NZ media machine knew what it was doing when they sent Ryan Crotty and Dane Coles out to set the stall out from a players’ perspective yesterday. Crotty, of course, scored that heartbreaker of a try to deny Ireland a win in 2013 — “since then I’ve had to apologise to every Irishman I met,” and he’s been over the ground with the press too – Coles delivered the slick assisting pass while occupying the last defender.

Dane Coles passes to Ryan Crotty to score a late try Crotty, right, takes the pass from Coles as he scored at the death in the Aviva. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

However, more relevant than the first November of Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland coach is November 2016 when the sides met twice in the space of a fortnight. One Test when New Zealand raged to victory on a cold night in Dublin, and one a sunny day in Chicago when Ireland made history to cause that rage.

“I think we’re doing everything in our power for that not to happen again,” says Coles when asked if he remains scarred by Soldier Field.

The hooker might have recalled the fatigue the encounter brought on him as the Hurricanes man wound up having to play the full 80 minutes due to the injuries that spattered both pack and back-line. For that reason among many more, it’s understandable if he prefers to look forward with an air of positivity.

“We can talk about history and stuff like that, but it’s all about this week. Both teams have had a lot of drama like 2013, when we pulled off that magic win. 2016, they got us.

But those things aren’t going to help you this week. It’s a new year, new players and I’m sure both teams will want to feel that feeling again.

“We won’t be dipping into the past for extra motivation. There’ll be plenty of motivation just to concentrate on this week and hopefully get the job done.”

It sounds distinctly like New Zealand have grown a very healthy level of respect for their newest rival at the summit of the world rankings. A certain level of the rhetoric and lashings of praise may well be engineered, but there is undoubtedly ample genuine admiration too.

“They’ve definitely got a more all-round game,” adds Coles after a nod to how impressed he is by Ireland’s ball-handling skill through backs and forwards.

“They’re not the classic team who just scrums and drives, their skill-sets are huge and we’ve felt defeat and stuff like that.  They can actually play, the forwards have great skill-sets, massive respect for them.

“They’ve probably added their own little taste to international footy over the last six-seven years, so it’s good.”

Ryan Crotty and Dane Coles Crotty and Coles in their Blanchardstown base yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Neither Coles nor Crotty go quite so far as to say this respect for Ireland has been newly- found, instead pointing that Ireland have always been a top tier nation.

Down the years, so many visiting All Blacks would wear a perplexed look when the name of an Ireland player was uttered from the floor and it didn’t sound like Brian O’Driscoll. But in 2018, they are aware of who awaits them. From Steve Hansen calling out the Conor Murray charade to Coles’ sympathy for the criticism of Rory Best and Crotty initially preparing to face Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose in midfield, before the Athlone man was ruled out with a hamstring issue.

“I don’t know if the perception has changed but I think the respect is definitely there that they are one of best teams in world rugby,” said Crotty.

“They are just an outstanding rugby side. I don’t think they’ve never not been seen in that light. They have always been a top tier nation. There is a lot of respect, definitely.”

New Zealand's Dane Coles Coles came off the bench to help the All Blacks win in Twickenham on Saturday. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Enough respect to continually move the conversation towards the task that awaits them on Saturday evening rather than indulge media retrospectives.

And yet, for Crotty, there is extra reason to feel excited and energised because his personal recollection of Chicago includes a hamstring injury that took him out of the equation for both the dramatic Ireland win and the revenge match in Dublin.

“How can you not be excited if you’ve got this opportunity to play?

It’s two of the best teams in the world going at it, over here, awesome atmosphere, awesome stadium and great fans. You don’t need to go anywhere else, you don’t need to dip into the past to find a desire to play and play well. It’s a special opportunity for whoever gets to run out there on Saturday.”

Coles concurred, don’t you just hate it when these two work in harmony?

“We’re focusing on right here right now. We’ve got our vision. It’s very important for us to play well on Saturday and that’s all the motivation we need. You can try to pull on these external things, but it comes from inside you.

“Special Test matches don’t come around all the time. We’ve been pretty lucky we had one last week and another one this week.”

Originally published at 08.47

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Sean Farrell

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