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Dublin: -1°C Sunday 24 January 2021

Hugh Cahill's New Zealand diary: Day 1

Our man in the Irish press pack, TV commentator Hugh, sends his first dispatch from the tournament front line: a Queenstown bar counter.

Stephen Ferris jumps into the Wakatipu Lake, Queenstown. (Inpho/Dan Sheridan)

I’M NOT SURE what I was hoping to find when my plane touched down in Queenstown airport this week, but I can safely say this place has surpassed every expectation I could have imagined.

Snow-capped mountains spread out for miles in every direction and with sunlight rebounding off the  slopes and down into the clear blue lakes, it’s easy to see why Peter Jackson felt this magnificent countryside was the only place that would do justice to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There’s a sense, too, that the Irish team can’t quite believe their luck.

Memories of a claustrophobic and barren base camp in Bordeaux have been wiped out in six short days and while the jet lag takes time to recover from, there has been no shortage of activities to keep the squad amused.

The sight of Paul O’Connell in terror wasn’t something I thought I would ever witness, but the 6ft 6 lock was a picture of fear as he bungee jumped off the side of a mountain in to a ravine.  Imagine the relief on the faces of Tom Court and Mike Ross when the instructor told them they were “too fat to jump”…

Declan Kidney has clearly done his homework on how to maximise player potential and a happy and relaxed squad can be seen walking around town every day, mixing with the fans and locals and generally being allowed to enjoy themselves.

All this aside, there is a job to be done and Sunday represents the first chance the players will have to banish the memory of 2007 and, indeed, of their last four defeats.  There is a sense, particularly among the older guys, that kick off in New Plymouth can’t come soon enough and for the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and Donncha O’Callaghan this is realistically their last shot at making a dent on the World Cup.

Understandably, they want to do themselves and their careers justice so I expect the Americans will be on the receiving end on Sunday.

Recovery session

As I write this I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag which I’m told will take four days to completely leave the system, so I haven’t managed to get fully switched on yet.

It probably hasn’t helped that the Tongans still haven’t named their starting team for Friday’s opener against New Zealand but hopefully they will have done so by the time I fly in to Auckland tomorrow.

Some of those squad names might as well be in double Dutch but I’ve had a bit of help with the pronunciations.  The locals here have been quite surprised by Graham Henry’s team selection with Israel Dagg and Sonny Bill Williams both handed starts in the backs, but if ever the stage was set for two hugely-talented players to make their mark then this must surely be it.

I’m reliably told a few beers in the evening is the best way to get rid of any remaining jet lag, so who am I to argue with such sound medical advice.  Until tomorrow…

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About the author:

Hugh Cahill

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