Ireland v New Zealand: David Corkery on the challenge of hosting the All Blacks

After demolishing Japan, Andy Farrell's side face the ultimate test at the Aviva
Ireland v New Zealand: David Corkery on the challenge of hosting the All Blacks

Beauden Barrett tackles Anton Lienert-Brown during a New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad training at UCD Bowl. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

MIND games in a professional environment will only fool the very, very stupid which nobody on the Irish or All Blacks coaching tickets is.

Ever since the final whistle was sounded last week after Ireland’s emphatic win over a well below par Japanese outfit, consideration very quickly turned to next week’s game and just as night follows day the mind games that all managers like to play duly commenced.

All week in the build-up to tomorrow’s mouth-watering test match we have had to read and listen to the many comments of admiration and worship emanating from both camps.

Some of the observations made about how great and brilliant the other side is so cheesy, they resemble the script of a very low budget B rated movie, and I doubt it very much that the respective head coaches, Andy Farrell, or Ian Foster will have allowed it to alter their preparation or objectives for this game.

If it wasn’t Beauden Barrett eulogising Johnny Sexton and vice versa, it was TJ Peranara romanticizing about how much he is looking forward to catching up with his old teammate Jamison Gibson-Park.

I almost felt like telling them to forget about the game and just head for Temple Bar instead where they could look at each other through some rose-tinted glasses and have a few pints of the black stuff.

I fully realise that the respect between these fellow players is profound however, I can also inform you that either Sexton or Barrett, or Peranara or Gibson Park would not bat an eyelid if one or the other had the worst game of their lives and never donned an international jersey again.

What most people fail to truly understand is that rugby at this level goes way beyond the swapping of jerseys and having a few pints after the game.

For the vast majority of these players, rugby is their lives and whilst that might change when they retire, it will play a massive part in shaping how they are perceived across the remainder of their days on this planet.

Head coach Andy Farrell and Conor Murray at training ahead of the All Blacks game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Head coach Andy Farrell and Conor Murray at training ahead of the All Blacks game. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

When you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to play any kind of sport to earn a crust, every time you are locked in a competitive mode and competing against your antagonists, the only thing that genuinely matters is emerging triumphant and there is little consideration paid towards what is going to happen after the game or who you are going to meet up with.

Whilst your superficial persona might portray a composed and disciplined athlete, deep inside the part of your brain that contains the yearning for victory there lies a thoroughbred beast that would do anything to win and if that anything meant annihilating one of your so-called friends, let there be little doubt about it, that’s what would be done.

Professional sport is one of the most ruthless environments you’ll encounter.

One minute you are on top of the world and the phone won’t stop ringing and two or three poor performances later you’re nothing but a distant memory and the subject of a feature in a newspaper title: Where are they now?

Last week, as Ireland so clinically swept aside the challenge from the very disappointing Japanese, New Zealand were in Italy inflicting a similar kind of pain against the Italians.

The score at the end of the 80 minutes was 47-9 in favour of the All Blacks. Apart from one, two or maybe three starting players the remainder of their starting 15 was made up of the so-called lesser players in their squad.

It would be very wrong of me to call these players 'B players' because there is no such thing as a second-string All Black, they are just not as established as the players who will be starting in tomorrow’s game.

For me, this selection process indicates that what happened back in 2016 and 2018 when Ireland managed to beat the Blacks has left a lingering impression and there is no way this particular bunch of All Blacks are going to let history repeat itself in 2021.

There has been much dialogue about the expansive style of play Ireland used to demolish their guests last week and how refreshing it was to see players adopting a so-called, heads-up approach to their attacking strategies.

Iain Henderson and James Ryan. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Iain Henderson and James Ryan. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Yes, it was great to see Sexton distributing the ball to his mid-field runners of Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose so they could look to create space in behind the brave Blossoms' first line of defence. However, if they try to embrace the same kind of free spirit against these men in black jerseys, not only will they lose the contest, the scoreboard in the Aviva will need to be altered so it can fit in extra digits in order to accommodate the visitors' scores.

There are no comparisons that I could use to offer to portray the gulf in class, power and ability between the Blacks and the Japanese.

Maybe depicting a mini as Japan and an F1 racing car as New Zealand might give you a small indication of what Ireland will be facing tomorrow. An F1 car is brittle during contact though, whereas the harder you hit the All Blacks, the stronger they become.

For me, the only team who can beat New Zealand at this current chapter in their continued quest for perfection are themselves and for that to happen there needs to be signs of mental fatigue.

Unfortunately, for Farrell and Co there are zero signs of any stress fractures in this juggernaut and do not be surprised if you see a scoreline similar to the one they ran up against the Italians.

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