WHEN will folks realise beating the All Blacks twice in recent times doesn’t give us any reason to be optimistic in the World Cup.
I would even say it is going to work against us because they will not be caught on the hop again and certainly not in this arena.
At a time when Irish rugby is standing on the precipice of greatness, I don’t want to come across all pessimistic. However, it's time people removed the blinkers and took a serious look at the size of the challenge that stands in front of Joe Schmidt and his players.
Yes, those two memorable victories, the first in Chicago after a 111-year wait and the other in Dublin were fantastic achievements and both will go down in history as great days for Irish sport. There was nothing tangible at stake other than a bit of bragging rights between Schmidt and New Zealand’s coach, Steve Hansen though.
The All Blacks are only judged once every four years and that is in a World Cup setting. While they despise losing, everything they do and every match they play is all in preparation for holding aloft the William Webb Ellis trophy when the final whistle is sounded at the end of the tournament.
Losing to Ireland in an exhibition game in Chicago and during an end of season tour in Dublin might not have been in their plans. Yet it certainly would not have affected their preparations and judging by their current form only a fool would bet against them regaining their crown.
They are now 18 matches in a row undefeated on a World Cup field.
Just like Gaelic football and hurling are viewed as religions on this Island, so too is rugby union in the Land of the Long White Cloud and they will do whatever is required to bring home the bacon.
Ireland have never reached the semi-final stages before of any World Cup and on this occasion, you might even argue they were fortunate enough to have made it out of their pool. New Zealand, on the other hand, have only once not made the semis when France beat them producing the performance of a lifetime in Cardiff 2007.
New Zealand have won the tournament three times, came second once, third twice and fourth once. If Ireland are going to have even the slightest glimmer of hope, they will need to play a brand of rugby that contradicts everything that Joe Schmidt believes in.
Apart from the South Africans who on a very rare occasion have had the ability to outmuscle New Zealand, no team has the firepower to dominate them up front. If Schmidt thinks giving CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong the ball to crash it up time and time again in an attempt to have them emerge on the other side of the gain line smelling of roses, he is sadly mistaken.
I can 100% guarantee you that if Ireland turn up tomorrow and attempt to deploy this safe and low risk type of strategy, they will be met with a wall of impenetrable black jerseys. Sexton and Murray will have nothing positive to play with.
Long before the ball even leaves Murray’s hands the Blacks will probably be well off-side however, it will be very hard for referee Nigel Owens to pick it up because they will all be off-side together.
Remember, New Zealand work off a set of morals that are governed by a heading that reads: “it's only cheating if your caught.”
What makes this current squad of All Blacks so dangerous is their ruthless ability to turn any mistake from the opposition into points. Sometimes they are actually better off when they don’t have possession of the ball because of the relentless pressure they put on their opponents and as soon as any kind of inaccuracy occurs, they have this instinct where each and every player knows what is needed to turn defence into a point-scoring attack.
It also helps that when they do have the ball, they have a very powerful ball-carrying tight five, two open sides in their backrow Ardie Savea and Sam Cane who offer maximum mobility, cunning tacticians at half-back in Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga and one of the three Barrett brothers at full-back.
The break down is somewhere where Ireland will look to gain an upper hand albeit, that will only happen if Ireland’s backrow are first to the breakdown and don’t have an issue with putting their heads where most wouldn’t even consider putting a brick.
The All Blacks will not have an issue with running the ball from deep inside their own half and when you have the speed and skill of players like George Bridge, Sunny Bill Williams and Sevu Reece hurtling towards you, as a defender you really have no idea of what they are going to do because they are all instinctive players, similar to what Ireland had when Brian O’Driscoll was running amok.
Then you look to their bench and I think it would be fair to say that most of them would make Ireland’s starting 15. Jordie Barret and TJ Perenara to name but two.
Throughout the week both camps have been trying to get the psychological advantage via the press and at times it came across like two schoolboys Schmidt and Hansen, fighting over the same girl.
This game wont be won by silly and stupid comments made in front of a bunch of journalists, it will be won by the team that plays the game with no fear and are willing to take risks. That is not Ireland.
Yes, I’d love to be wrong because this collective of Irish players are probably the best we have ever had assembled and they deserve something special for all the hard work they have put in. I also believe that Joe Schmidt has done a valiant job and has brought us to heights never believed possible.
I also reckon he knows the limitations to our skill levels and the game plan he has drilled into the players is one that will not work against teams like New Zealand, Japan and England who are more focused on a reactive type of game.
If Ireland were a piece of furniture you would see them in an Ikea store where if one screw, nut, bolt or one page of the instructions was missing the entire project could not be assembled, whereas New Zealand are more like a piece of bespoke craft that came about because of the exceptional raw materials that the master carpenter was presented to work with.
New Zealand to win, but I hope not by much.