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'Coming to Dublin is always special': All Blacks hungry and focused ahead of Aviva showdown

Assistant coach Ian Foster admits there’s been an edge in training this week.

Waisake Naholo and Seta Tamanivalu in training yesterday.
Waisake Naholo and Seta Tamanivalu in training yesterday.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

A WAKE-UP call, a reality check; call it what you want, being rolled over by Ireland in Chicago has focused All Black minds and fueled their fire ahead of a Test match in need of no further accelerant.

You don’t often hear anyone associated with the world champions concede any sort of mental frailty or self-doubt, particularly days out from a game, but assistant coach Ian Foster says there’s a ‘nice nervousness’ within the camp this week.

The post-mortem of the Soldier Field surrender wouldn’t have been pretty but yesterday’s pitch session marked the start of the serious preparation work, and this is serious business for the All Blacks.

The earthquakes which have shaken New Zealand will have put rugby in some sort of perspective over the last 72 hours but the players, needless to say, are full attuned to the situation.

Chicago has sharpened the focus and the visitors are making no effort to downplay the significance of Saturday’s return fixture at the Aviva Stadium.

“These are great weeks. There’s an edge in the air,” Foster said at the team hotel yesterday.

Ian Foster Foster says the mood in the camp is good. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“We love preparing for big Test matches. Coming to Dublin and preparing to play Ireland is always pretty special for us.

“It’s a fantastic stadium, the supporters are amazing and I guess what’s happened in Chicago has just added a little bit more seasoning to it, hasn’t it? The boys are in a good spot. We’re following our normal process but there is a bit of an edge.”

All of a sudden, the penultimate game of New Zealand’s remarkable year has become one of their biggest. Pride, more than anything, is on the line and the manner of that defeat in America still rankles with the players.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Chicago but we gave them a lot of opportunities to play in our half in that first 25 minutes,” Foster continued.

“I think after that when we settled down and came back into the game, we were largely pretty happy with what we were doing. We got ourselves back into a position where we could also have won the game but we weren’t good enough on the day.

“Like I said, we can’t keep giving 25-point head starts.”

So are the All Blacks, seemingly untouchable less than a fortnight ago, any less confident going into Saturday’s clash at the Aviva Stadium?

“Well I think we know we are playing a team that has beat us recently,” Steve Hansen’s deputy replied.

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Beauden Barrett The squad, including Beauden Barrett, were put through their paces at Westmanstown RC. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“So when you look at your confidence I still think we are confident in what we do but there’s a nice nervousness about it and we know that if we don’t front up and play to the best of our ability we know it is going to be a long night so…to be honest it’s a good feeling.

“It’s a nice edge and it forces us to dig a bit deeper and make us prepare to the degree that we take a lot of pride in doing and probably didn’t do that good a job of in Chicago.”

Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong for the All Blacks in Chicago. They were guilty of committing a succession of uncharacteristic errors, as well as a high missed-tackle count and a malfunctioning line-out.

That was largely down to the absence of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick with the latter admitting the players were ‘hurt and disappointed’ by the performance.

“We were hurt and disappointed but we have full respect for the Irish – and when you think back to 2013, the 83rd minute, I wouldn’t say there is much difference now,” the second row said.

“We are trying to nail our structure, sort out what we put out onto the field and then we will play what we see. At times in Chicago we didn’t quite get that right and sometimes we did. If we can nail that for 80 minutes then we will be in a good place.

“It’s been talked about as a big game, it’s going to be a big game for us after Chicago. Coming here to Dublin is always huge. I think we’re just a bit disappointed, we probably let ourselves down as a team a wee bit in Chicago, and want to come here and rectify that.

“We’ve got to take control of the physical battle and our execution and then just play our game.”

Kieran Read dejected after the game New Zealand's pride was hurt after Chicago. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

And that is exactly what they’re trying to focus on. As the standard-bearers of world rugby, New Zealand need only concentrate on their own performance as they know, on their day, no opposition has the capacity to deal with them.

“You’ve got to manoeuvre the game to discover areas where they [Ireland] are weak,” Foster explained. “We have got to move the game so that we execute consistently well the way we want to play. And that we really work hard on our decision and we believe if we do that, that we are a hard team to handle. If we don’t do that against a well organised team then life becomes pretty tough.

“They’ve got a big strong forward line and they like their line speed and they like to control the game through their kicking game. So they’re a team and know their game pretty well now and trust it and they have done pretty well with it and funnily enough that is how you probably would have described us before Chicago so we’ve got to show that we can do that too.”

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