Ireland look for lightning to strike twice as All Blacks eye revenge

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With the euphoria of the last meeting between these two sides only just starting to fade for millions of Ireland fans, New Zealand have arrived in Dublin demanding a rematch. Having waited over a century for a win against the All Blacks, Ireland now face the very real possibility of winning twice in two weeks!

Ireland will come into this fixture for the first time knowing they have the potential to beat the All Blacks. Pshycoligically a lot of the ‘aura’ that surrounded New Zealand on previous trips to Dublin will have washed away, with Ireland finally putting the 2013 defeat behind them in Chicago. The head to head record now reads – New Zealand wins: 27 Ireland wins: 1, but so often it is the first hurdle that is the hardest to overcome. They will also be confident in their strength in depth, after their second string beat Canada last weekend, with centre Garry Ringrose looking impressive. Team manager Mick Kearney provided more good news, announcing that there were no new injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s fixture, although prop Jordi Murphy, a casualty of the last meeting between these sides, will remain out of the squad.

Tactically New Zealand will not be looking to change too much. Their problems against Ireland in Chicago were not down to the wrong tactics but rather down to ill discipline at the line-out, and in individual players (Steve Hansen will give Joe Moody a stern lecture about not getting sin-binned within the first 10 minutes). Towards the end of the game, usually the All Black’s most fruitful period, passes went astray and they simply looked lost out on the field. The return of lock Brodie Retallick to the New Zealand team should fix the line-out issues that plagued the All Blacks in Chicago. Defensively they will have tightened the screw. Conor Murray scored a wonderful solo try at Soldier Field, but it is hard to imagine New Zealand will allow the scrum-half that amount of time and space at the weekend. In the brief periods in Chicago where the momentum was firmly with New Zealand, they narrowed the gap to within 4 points. They will be looking to reproduce those moments of magic throughout the entire match in Dublin, and Ireland will have to be vigilant in defense. They were well organized in Chicago, but Scott Barnet’s try was a result of defensive errors on Ireland’s part.

For Ireland, they will need to capitalize on every opportunity that comes their way. It is unlikely that they will be able to put 40 points on the scoreboard again. Their kicking game, one of their strengths in the US, will need to be on point, and the pressure will be on Simon Zebo, who was excellent in Chicago, and Rob Kearney to compete with New Zealand for every kick that Jonny Sexton sends down the field. Robbie Henshaw’s match winning try was scored following pressure on Julian Savea from a Zebo kick. Savea’s aerial ability has remained his weakness, and Ireland should look to exploit New Zealand’s discomfort in dealing with a confident kicking game. They should also look to utilise the rolling maul, which yielded a try early on in the last meeting. Finally, they must always look to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Penalties, drop-goals, tries, it doesn’t matter how they do it, but New Zealand lost the mental battle part way through the last game because Ireland were effective almost every time they entered New Zealand territory.

New Zealand have been wounded, and that makes them especially dangerous. Italy bore the full brunt of their wrath last weekend, but opportunities for revenge seldom come so quickly in international rugby and Ireland are keenly aware that the All Blacks will be raring to go on Saturday afternoon. Ireland have a coach they can trust in Joe Schmidt and will now know that they can beat New Zealand. If they successfully win the mental battle, and keep the scoreboard creeping upwards, they have an excellent chance of becoming the first home nation to achieve back-to-back victories against New Zealand since England over 10 years ago.

Photograph: wikimedia.commons

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