Sunday 11 December 2016

Fitzgerald: Ireland have squad depth to beat the All Blacks

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

Having been on the pitch when Ryan Crotty broke Irish hearts three years ago, Luke Fitzgerald could almost taste the success of a historic first victory over New Zealand.

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So near and yet so far but the fact remains that it was Ireland's own indiscipline that handed possession back to the All Blacks before their defensive system failed them.

It was another near miss but the pain of that particular afternoon at the Aviva still lingers as Ireland prepare to face the back-to-back world champions twice in two weeks.

For Fitzgerald, 2013 was his final crack at beating New Zealand but for plenty of his team-mates that day, they get another two chances next month.

Their record-breaking 18th consecutive victory last weekend has only highlighted the scale of the task that lies ahead for Joe Schmidt's side but Fitzgerald believes that Ireland have the strength in depth to mount another serious challenge.

"Do I think we've got the squad to do it? Yeah I do," Fitzgerald said at the preview of a huge autumn of Irish rugby on Sky Sports.

"I think there's loads of talent there, it's just a step up against them. All 23 guys have to have their best game whereas I think they can cruise around at 80 or 90pc and still do the business. That makes it really hard and that's why we've never beaten them.

"The one thing that gives me a little bit of hope is that we've got 23 really good rugby players. We've got guys who can come on, make an impact and still compete at the highest level.

"I don't know if we've always had that against New Zealand. We've kind of just had 15 guys.

"They're going to run out of steam at some point. We've had 15 guys who have had to hang on. The guys who are coming on maybe aren't adding, they're just surviving.

"I think that's one thing we have going for us this time around. I think we'll have a clear plan. I just think it's very hard to figure out where you've got the weaknesses."

Fitzgerald (right) has played in enough Schmidt teams to know the level of belief that he brings and his long-awaited announcement that he is staying on until the 2019 World Cup is a huge boost.

Ireland have targeted New Zealand in the air in the past. It's a favoured game-plan of Schmidt's and Fitzgerald is expecting Ireland to go with something similar in Chicago next weekend.

"I think with Joe there, the lads will believe that they have a chance," the former Leinster and Ireland player said.

"That's the best place to start from against them. Some of the games are won, from their perspective, before you even take to the pitch. What's going to be really important is figuring out where you've got some ins in the game.

"They look like the complete package to me. There's no real weakness in the set-piece.

"An area I would always have targeted is the air. I think we're really good there. That's an area we can keep going back to all day if you're doing well.

"We'll be really well-organised. Joe Schmidt teams are always really well-organised.

"(Andy) Farrell is a big plus. That really aggressive defence is something that will work well against them but you've got to be really accurate in that kind of high intensity line speed.

"But they have got a lot of guys with really good footwork and good offloading ability."

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