So here we go, Irish sporting greatness is floating on the crest of a wave. First the might All Blacks were beaten, then the Notorious Conor McGregor made history by adding another title, the Irish ladies pushed England close, the fellas beat Canada and now we are facing the return of the world champions to the Aviva stadium.
Starting in Chicago, every person and pundit didn’t see that performance coming. It was the usual ‘let’s push them close’ thoughts going in. New Zealand where the only team where we were happy to fight hard and lose instead of push to win. We never thought it would happen. I know it had to happen sometime, but let’s be honest, we didn’t think it would be in this generation. Every time we got close they put the foot down and left us in the dust, or crept over the line on purpose. There was some luck with their second row being second string. That was our only chance wasn’t it?
Well, not only did we win the set piece battle, the fearlessness, inventiveness and guts on display from Ireland took the best the All Blacks had, and came back to win. The first time in 111 years! This was Everest, this was landing on the moon and this was losing your virginity at the age of 40 (this is not about me; I am in my 30’s). We also had our luck, single figure penalties given away where key. The AB’s struggled to get into their game, but had a 12 minute purple patch that brought the score to 33-29. Every single person watching had the same reaction, ‘at least we tried’ everyone except the team that is. They dug deep, stuck to the plan and finished off stronger than ever. Fitness was not an issue, this team didn’t hang on, and they won!
To a man, every player stepped up!
The Canada game gave a few fringe players starts in the jersey and that will make us money down the road. They slipped in to the team fairly well. I was there, it was far from spectacular, but 52 points were scored against a decent Canada team who were there to fight. Ultane Dillane proved to be the beast in waiting. He is absolutely immense and is a great tribute to what is happening out west in Connacht. He is injured this weekend and will be missed.
So now, we are on the eve of the game. I am lucky enough to be in possession of a ticket so will be there. What will we expect and how will we deal with an angry All Blacks? Firstly they are under all the pressure, similar to the first game where they were chasing a record; they are now trying to save face. They couldn’t handle the pressure last time. So what Ireland have to do is stand up, trust themselves and fight because this will end up a scrap. Ireland where the only team interested in a fight last time, but this will be different. The second row issues are fixed this is the best AB team available. But they are beatable!
First scrum at 5 minutes. Both packs line up and it is equal between the 2. Neither moves. This is with the full AB team in place. That is mental bullet number 1! Same for the first lineout. Ireland needs to get parity in places they dominated last time to get into the heads of the world champions. If that happens, they will slowly melt. They will over run and under pass. While this is happening Ireland must keep the scoreboard ticking.
But will all that talking, what is the prediction? Well, I will straddle the fence for splinters. If Ireland is within a score going into the last 15 when the power subs come on (Hendo, Healy, Cronin and JVDF) then I think Ireland will win. If the All Blacks get a head of steam early and put the points up early, it will be a bloodbath.
Either way, I cannot wait! History beckons again! Pressure on the champions, let’s test their mettle!
So the above was written on Friday 18th November. Before the weekend. I have not touched any predictions or made any edits this morning.
I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the match on Saturday. The atmosphere was great but a little tense. Everyone in green was moving well in the warm up so the rumours of injury in the squad seemed unfounded.
Upon kick-off the teams were at a high intensity level that was great to watch. There referee was going to have to be on his toes throughout to keep everyone safe.
And then the hits kept coming, Henshaw was taken out. Stander was taken out and players were getting more clotheslines than the last wrestlemania. In between making is a prison fight, the All Blacks played some pornographic rugby. There was one try that had more backhanded offloads it was just sublime to see live. Amazing stuff. So it was a game that was an emotional rollercoaster. Anytime Ireland had a scoring chance, New Zealand stopped the ball, they gave away a penalty instead of possibly conceding the 7 points and played very cynically in their own 22. This meant that Ireland ran up against a wall and got out with lower points. This builds up psychologically.
I don’t know what the referee was doing during this game. Maybe the cold weather got to him. The TMO was the same. Sexton held up the try which would have had another momentum shift. I couldn’t hear the question the ref asked the TMO, but when the replay is show on massive screens in the stadium and you can clearly see Sextons arm under the ball, the ref needs to take control. But that wasn’t going to happen. Within 22 minutes, Ireland lost Sexton (hamstring), Stander (concussion from a player leading with a shoulder) and Henshaw (taken out). They were always going to struggle from that point. The referee could have sent a message, but chose not to.
The reaction on social media has been laughable. While there are some that are unable to take the loss, the majority are pointing at the great All Black play alongside the cynical and dangerous play mixed with a referee as out of his depth as I would be on the 100m front crawl race at the Olympics.
With all of that said, if you don’t score a try you won’t win a game. Ireland tried very hard and again Iron Man Jamie Heaslip was frighteningly immense, but Ireland just didn’t have it in the tank. The score line was not how the game went, but that is what is down in the record books. There is nothing to fear in that All Black team.
Now on to the Wallabies next week. A big finish is very important! I believe we will get it.