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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Second win over the All Blacks would lift Ireland to thrilling heights

‘The likes of Drico, ROG, Paul, Hayes; all those lads have been through those hard days.’

Updated at 12.00

WHAT HAPPENS IF Ireland beat the All Blacks again?

Chicago felt like a defining moment for Irish rugby, but victory in Dublin just two weeks after would be a truly incredible feat.

Ireland are underdogs, never mind what Steve Hansen mischievously had to say, and therefore a second success against the Kiwis would count as a surprise.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt has led Ireland to some major milestones already. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For this group of players – many of them already two-time Six Nations winners under Joe Schmidt – a win tomorrow would tell them that Ireland are among the very best teams in the world.

And for the newer faces, it would build an even stronger belief of that assertion. Think of Joey Carbery beating the All Blacks on his Ireland debut – what a standard to set for the rest of his Test career.

Tadhg Furlong, who wins his 10th cap tomorrow, has already beaten the Springboks on South African soil and was part of the first Ireland team to down the All Blacks. There are others still emerging that now have a taste for this.

“I think it always adds a little bit of confidence,” says Joe Schmidt. “There’s a little bit of belief. I think coming back from South Africa, some of the players who made their Test debuts there, guys like Tiernan O’Halloran… for a guy like him he realised, ‘Hang on a minute, we can actually compete with these guys.’”

“So to get those second-tier, new players in; I think for a guy like Josh Van der Flier, that was only his third Test match going on in Chicago for 56 minutes, going in the 24th minute against a huge team.

“The previous two games he played were against England on his debut and against Italy, so for him it was a massive step. He’s got to get confidence from that, I’m sure, and I think there are a few other guys who will get confidence from it.”

Van der Flier is confined to the bench tomorrow, with Sean O’Brien instead taking Ireland’s seven shirt. How odd it is that the 43-times capped Tullow man has never beaten the All Blacks, while van der Flier did it on cap number three.

A view of training Ireland's training pitch at Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Look at all the former Ireland greats who never achieved this, from Mike Gibson right up to Brian O’Driscoll.

Paul O’Connell was in the stands at Soldier Field.

“I spotted himself and Doug Howlett piggy-backing up in the stand after that result and it was great saluting him,” says second row Donnacha Ryan. ”They seemed to be enjoying themselves.”

“It was great to see him. They’ve been through the mill, the likes of Drico, ROG, Paul, Hayes; all those lads have been through those hard days.”

Any contact from those great names in the aftermath?

“I don’t think Hayes texts, to be honest!” said Ryan. “No, we’ve got all those goodwill messages off people over the last while but at the end of the day, they know that we have to back it up again next weekend.

“The place to enjoy that game last weekend was in the pubs of Ireland, really, but from our point of view we had a great time with our families and then we came back the next day and prepared for Canada. It’s a bit sobering, but at the end of the day really enjoyable as well.”

The lack of celebration will certainly be worthwhile if Ireland can back it up tomorrow in the Aviva Stadium, although the bookies have, of course, refused to yield to the new-found sense of optimism among Irish supporters.

While the first game in Chicago had been preceded by a sense of foreboding, now Irish rugby supporters and pundits alike feel the previously unthinkable is very much achievable.

Sean Cronin and Finlay Bealham Sean Cronin carries Finlay Bealham at training yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You are never super comfortable with expectation,” says Schmidt. “We stay focused on trying to hit some performance markers. Sometimes expectation, we don’t control. Some people say things about what we are capable of doing or what we should be doing or what our opponents aren’t capable of doing.

“We know that on any given day any of that information may be false, because on any given day someone can turn up and deliver or somebody can get a couple of things right and it swing a game.

“What you try to do is be as studious as you can, try to be as clear as you can in what your plan is.”

Nothing changed in Chicago.

“I don’t think we necessarily did anything tactically that was anything special,” continues Schmidt. “It was not a lot different to what we did in South Africa. You get access points through a couple of lineouts in the first half, you get a bit of momentum, you get confidence and, suddenly, when you are playing with confidence, it is quite a bit different.

“I think one of the advantages the All Blacks have had is that they have had been afforded the luxury of feeling there’s a confidence about what they can deliver because their performances reflect exactly that.”

If Ireland can repeat the feat, that very last sentence will apply to them. Two wins over the best team in the world could breed a whole new level of confidence into Ireland as a rugby nation, and this particular group of players under Schmidt.

The rewards are clear, but the challenge is immense.

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Murray Kinsella

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