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Unhappy All Blacks the toughest Test of all -- Schmidt

The Kiwi doesn’t expect to see his men build a 19 or 22-point cushion this time around.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT KNEW the rancour he had caused in his home country as soon as the final whistle went.

He descended the stairs in Soldier Field and stared down a TV NZ camera to say sorry to his mother for beating the All Blacks, though he’d later admit it was a pretty hollow apology.

New Zealand are not good at losing. They will be hell-bent on setting the record straight in Saturday’s return match against Ireland. Maybe then they can go and finish the season with a win over France and go back home dusting their hands at a job pretty well done.

If one loss in 20 games were to become two in 21, though? The whole narrative of Steve Hansen’s year would surely be tipped on its head. In the depths of the southern hemisphere winter the world was marvelling at how the All Blacks had somehow improved themselves despite losing Dan Carter, Richie McCaw Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu. After two losses to Ireland, the squad would be inundated with reminders of the good old days.

The pressure’s on. But more often than not over the last eight years, that’s the precise point when the All Blacks shine through at their brightest.

“I think it absolutely is,” Schmidt agreed when asked whether New Zealand this weekend would be his toughest test.

I don’t think you could get a tougher test because I think that they are unhappy, obviously.
“When you win 18 in a row and you get into that habit, you’re not happy to lose that.

“I know they were quite outspoken about being driven to continue that through to the end of the calendar year and that hasn’t happened for them, so they want to get straight back on track. With the talent they have, it’s going to be incredibly tough to stop them doing that.”

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For his own side, Schmidt made only one enforced change from the starting line-up which made history in Chicago on 5 November, Sean O’Brien winning the battle with Josh van der Flier to replace their Leinster team-mate Jordi Murphy in the number seven jersey. The Wicklow man started on the bench in Soldier Field too, and Schmidt expects him to play a big role again.

Engine

“We thought it was probably better that Sean start than come off the bench,” says the Kiwi.

“He needs to feel his way into the game a little bit, to get a run straight from the warm-up into the game, whereas Josh has been fit and with us for a bit longer.

“He obviously came with us to Chicago, spent that time with us and did such a good job off the bench that his versatility, his engine at the end of the day, might serve us well.”

New Zealand, as you might expect, have tweaked a little more in their line-up. Ryan Crotty’s injury keeps him out of the midfield, so Steve Hansen has recalled the precociously talented Anton Lienert-Brown to accompany Malakai Fekitoa. Israel Dagg’s aerial ability edges out Waisake Naholo, but most importantly the All Blacks have staffed their second row with perhaps the best combination in the game – Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick.

New ZealandÕs Brodie Retallick Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock

Ireland won’t get as much change from the line-out and maul this time around, and so Schmidt doesn’t expect to see his side force New Zealand into a run chase like they did in the last two meetings.

“I felt we deserved to get our nose in front when we did, the players really rolled their sleeves up and hung in, and managed to protect the lead we had.”

“At the same time, I don’t think they’re going to afford us any head-starts this week.

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Sean Farrell

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