Thursday 21 September 2017

Demystify the All Blacks then maybe we have a chance

HAVE you seen 'The Hunger Games'? New Zealand out-half Dan Carter watched Hollywood's latest blockbuster on Thursday evening in Dublin. Typical. The film fits seamlessly into the way the All Blacks play; a kill-or-be-killed spectacle.

What about our Hunger Games? Ireland has been starved of a victory over New Zealand; the winless record against them has long gone from being a footnote to a landmark. They seem to have a hex over us. For the purpose of this article I'm going to refer to the All Blacks by their country. Former Ireland boss Declan Kidney used to do it. He tried to strip away the myth associated with the ABs by referring to them as New Zealand. Ultimately though, it didn't work.

The three-point defeat to New Zealand in 2012 was clearly a missed opportunity. Players are now at different stages of their careers but this Ireland team has most of the best players we've ever known. Naturally, new head coach Joe Schmidt needs time to imprint his own ideas on the team.

But it's 2013 and the conversation has wheeled back to us talking about playing for pride again. Shouldn't playing for pride be a given?

After the rollicking Ireland got from Australia, Tony Ward wrote in this newspaper on Monday that "restoring some pride in the jersey is the minimum requirement" against New Zealand. The conversation should be about trying to beat New Zealand. But Tony is right. I asked Brian O'Driscoll about this during the week. Is talk about restoring pride in the jersey for this Irish team a sign of regression or realism? O'Driscoll replied to the question without necessarily answering it.

In the pursuit of absolute excellence, can the base-line emotion of having a cause, a bit of bitterness, as Anthony Foley would say, sometimes get diluted along the way? The cornerstone of all Irish teams in the past has been passion and pride.

But the Irish players were everything we know they're not against the Wallabies. Passive. Uninspiring. And where was the controlled aggression and menace? O'Driscoll put it mildly when he stated that players need to play with a bit more anger on Sunday.

The rules of engagement will have to be different tomorrow at the Aviva Stadium. As a nation, are we too deferential to New Zealand? Most Ireland fans will look forward to the haka. Understandable. But I've developed haka fatigue. Let's not understate the importance of any country's history and tradition. But the act of a team having to stand to attention while New Zealand perform the haka no longer sits easily with me.

I loved former Ireland skipper Willie Anderson's take on the challenge by stomping his team towards New Zealand doing the haka at Lansdowne Road in 1989. The crowd were enthralled.

I was in Cardiff for the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final between France and New Zealand when Les Bleus wore t-shirts in the colours of their flag. They upped the ante by walking towards the haka. The French won. They also won the game.

Is it too harsh to knock on the head any mystique over the all black jersey? In that defeat to France at the Millennium Stadium, New Zealand wore a grey strip, as opposed to their traditional black.

Carter, who misses tomorrow's game with injury, tweeted that he wished he had read the book 'The Hunger Games' before he saw the movie. But at least it meant he went to the cinema without knowing the outcome.

Like everyone else, I hope Ireland go off script tomorrow and serve up an ending that few will have seen coming.

Sinead Kissane is a reporter and presenter with TV3 Sport.

Irish Independent

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