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No figure of eight, no All Blacks disrespect; Ireland out to repeat the feat

Rory Best and his men won’t line up to face the haka as they did in Chicago.

WHILE IRELAND HAVE pretty much attracted non-stop praise since Chicago, New Zealand have been dealing with the genuine stress of losing in the famous black jersey.

The Soldier Field defeat was the Kiwis’ first of any kind in 19 games, as well as their first-ever loss to Ireland.

Ireland team face the Haka in a shape of eight in memory of Anthony Foley of Munster Ireland will not stand in a figure of eight today. Source: INPHO/Billy Stickland

We know how their rugby-obsessed nation reacts to rugby failures, although it must be said that the far more serious aftermath of an earthquake has taken more of the attention in recent times.

Nonetheless, this All Blacks group will feel a responsibility to bounce back strongly today in the Aviva Stadium [KO 5.30pm, RTÉ 2].

Greg Feek, Ireland’s scrum coach, is a former All Black, capped 10 times between 1999 and 2001. He knows what it feels like to lose in the black jersey.

“You’re scared to read the papers and head home, it was a bit like that,” says Feek. “I remember getting home after the ’99 World Cup, and a couple of guys said ‘Why you coming back here so early?’ because we’d failed. There’s moments like that where you realise the weight that’s on you in terms of the expectations.

“It’s taken a few years, but I think this group of players, particularly in the last few years, have kind of embraced that pressure.

“Rather than dwell on it, and let it weigh them down, they seem to have got a game they can get excited about, which keeps the motivation going, keep trying to play the game and I think that’s where they’ll be focusing a lot of their attention on. It’s just getting back to how they play, a brand of rugby their fans enjoy worldwide.”

They’re good people, these All Blacks, as they like to remind us intermittently.

Aaron Cruden Aaron Cruden gets his high ball work in. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The likes of former All Black Craig Dowd and ex-Ireland wing Luke Fitzgerald have accused Steve Hansen and his squad of showing disrespect to Ireland before the Chicago clash, citing their haka choice and team selection.

However, Ireland captain Rory Best insists his team haven’t seen any of that.

“No, absolutely not,” says the Ulsterman. “They obviously came to win. It’s towards the end of a long season for them and they’ve done a lot of travelling. We didn’t get that at all.

“They were very humble after the game in the respect they gave us. We don’t see any of that. We hear people talking about it, we didn’t get any of that.

“Even when they got to within four points, you just feel that as the lead we had narrowed, they got more excited. We really had to dig very deep to come away with the win. In terms of disrespect, there was definitely no feeling whatsoever of that from our side.”

The All Blacks’ haka is likely to be fierce again today, as they pay their respects to Jonah Lomu – yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of his death – although we won’t see a repeat of Ireland’s response in Chicago.

That day, Best and his players stood in a figure of eight in honour of Anthony Foley.

“We’ll be as normal, lined up across the 10-metre line, the flat line,” says Best. “Obviously, two weeks ago with the figure of eight, it was the first time we’d pulled on an Irish jersey since Axel’s passing, and we felt it was right to mark that in some way.

The Ireland team to face New Zealand The Ireland 23 to face the All Blacks in Dublin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“This time around it will be nothing like that, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate. It felt appropriate, two weeks ago, but now we’ve done that, we have to let the family have their peace now and get on with life.”

In truth, Ireland are simply concerned with delivering a clinical, accurate performance. Nothing ever really changes in that regard under Joe Schmidt.

However, with Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock back to shore up the All Blacks’ lineout and maul, Ireland may have to find new methods of prising open the visitors’ defence.

Repeating the feat of scoring five tries and 40 points against the All Blacks won’t be easy.

“It would be hard to put a figure on what we would be comfortable to score,” says Best. “We work long and hard on our attack. We work on our shape. We work on attacking in various different forms.

“When we feel something is going well, we go back to it, like we did with the maul a couple of weeks ago. We also scored some pretty good tries off other forms as well.

“For us, we know that it will be hard to keep the All Blacks to zero. We know we are going to have to score some points and we’re going to have to come up with ways and options and plans.

“If Plan A doesn’t work, it’s like playing any other team where you may need a Plan B and Plan C. You know playing the All Blacks you are going to need several options off several set-pieces to have any chance of winning.

Jonathan Sexton Sexton takes a shot at goal yesterday in the Aviva. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have worked hard on that. The guys that didn’t play against Canada had a session last Friday [week] at Carton House and we had the weekend. We’ve had four good days this week to nail off what we need to do to cope with the pressure.

“That is the big thing that Joe has brought in, is the pressure to pick up plays very quickly. By Tuesday, it is almost like we could play the game that night. We haven’t allowed that to slacken off just because we won in Chicago.

“In fact, we’ve increased that pressure because we know that they’re going to come and give us less time and less space and less access, maybe, in the set-piece. We’ve got to be armed in other facets.”

Ireland:

15. Rob Kearney
14. Andrew Trimble
13. Jared Payne
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best (capt)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Donnacha Ryan
5. Devin Toner
6. CJ Stander
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin
17. Cian Healy
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Iain Henderson
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Garry Ringrose

New Zealand:

15. Ben Smith
14. Israel Dagg
13. Malakai Fekitoa
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
11. Julian Savea
10. Beauden Barrett
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Dane Coles
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Liam Squire
7. Sam Cane
8. Kieran Read (capt)

Replacements:

16. Codie Taylor
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Scott Barrett
20. Ardie Savea
21. T.J. Perenara
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Waisake Naholo

Referee: Jaco Peyper [SARU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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