Aussie agony can aid Ireland

Ex-All Black Gibbes believes Schmidt's men could match Kiwis' high tempo

Peter Breen

IT IS a number that might not resonate immediately with most rugby followers, but for Jono Gibbes 1038 is the point which marked a childhood dream.

The Leinster Forwards coach has gone on to enjoy a fine run of success since his retirement after a glittering career in his home province of Waikato and then with the New Zealand Maoris – whom he famously led to success against the British & Irish Lions in 2005.

But like all New Zealanders growing up, he dreamt as a youngster of one day wearing the iconic black jersey which proudly sports the silver fern and he achieved that.

"To become an All Black is what you wanna do as a kid", the former lock reflected ahead of this weekend's final game of the Guinness Series.

"The word 'aura' is used a bit haphazardly. To win at the top levels you have to be accurate, play with a high tempo and with a lot of power. Ireland can play high tempo rugby and they will be hurting after losing (to Australia) last weekend."

He remembers his international bow all those years ago on the 12th of June 2004 as the 1038th person to don the famous black shirt.

The city was Dunedin. The opposition was England.

"The prominence of rugby in the psyche of New Zealanders is pretty significant as it is the national sport. So if you're selected to play for the All Blacks it's a special thing for you and your family.

"But with that honour comes a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of players who have represented the nation with distinction; players like Michael Jones and John Kirwan were heroes of mine.

"One of the most special memories that I have from playing England that day was receiving my jersey from Sir Brian Lochore – and I remember feeling how special it was to be in the presence of someone who is considered one of the great All Black captains.

"The other standout memory I have was from the final whistle. I was so pumped up with adrenaline that I thought I could go out there and play again. The game went by so quickly and even though it was hugely physical, I felt fresh and ready to go again."

Does Gibbes believe that Ireland can defeat the Men in Black this weekend?

"A lot has been said and written about the mystique behind the All Blacks," he explains. "And a lot of that myth from modern times would have stemmed from the likes of Buck Shelford and the generations of great players and teams who have followed.

"Richie (McCaw) has earned his status as one of the greatest All Blacks and I think the thing that people most admire about him is how he plays, how he leads and how he conducts himself on and off the field.

"I have no doubt that – and I say this after having worked with a lot of the Leinster boys who are in the Ireland squad – playing for their country means the same to them as it does for the All Blacks.

"There's the same honour and the same pride as an Irishman playing for your country and so the same level of determination is there for Ireland as it is for New Zealand."

Since his appointment by Michael Cheika in 2008, Gibbes has played an integral role in Leinster's success.

Had fate not intervened perhaps he could have featured as a player for Leinster towards the tail end of his career.

But when Cheika met Gibbes he was impressed sufficiently by his knowledge and passion for the game to invite him to join the coaching staff.

And the rest, as they say, is history. He has dovetailed several new coaching teams, first with Australian Cheika, then with Schmidt and now with another Australian in Matt O'Connor – and has helped provide a regular presence under those three regimes.

Though his focus will be in the Stadio di Monigo in Treviso as the province resumes their PRO12 campaign following the hiatus from the Guinness Series, he believes that a wounded animal can be a dangerous thing for his native land.

"Ireland can play high tempo rugby. There are players in the squad who have captained the British & Irish Lions and who have Heineken Cups.

"So they know what it takes it win big finals and big games.

"There are still a few (players) from the 2009 Grand Slam winning team in the mix and you can't put a price on that kind of experience. Rest assured, Ireland have some quality players who can front up and ask a lot of questions about NZ at the weekend.

"There has been some talk after last weekend's win (by New Zealand) over England about going unbeaten for an entire international season, but that won't affect their preparation.

"They won't want to be the first team to lose this year – or the first to lose against Ireland for that matter.

"I'm not sure whether you can say them having all the pressure this week is accurate because I personally think that they'll use it as a positive to make sure that they prepare accordingly. Knowing Joe (Schmidt) though, his preparation will be equally as thorough."