IT is a simple equation for All Black legend Zinzan Brooke. Ireland must beat Australia at Eden Park on September 17 to create the kind of momentum necessary for a prolonged stay at the World Cup.
Second best, or runner-up in Pool C, was never good enough for the man still rated by many as the finest number eight of all time. Ireland will find the perfect preparation for such a test in the south of France tonight. Can Ireland beat the Wallabies if they can't even beat Scotland in Murrayfield? “I think Ireland can beat Australia,” he said.
How do they do it? The answer is one of simplicity. It is not as though Ireland are fumbling around in the dark for something they have yet to find. “They have to bring what they brought to England in the Six Nations. They don't have to bring it before then in their warm-up matches. But, it would be nice to start to see signs of it against France in Bordeaux. HISTORY “They just have to get into that rhythm of winning. It doesn't matter how they win, only that they do. The history books only remind you of who won, not how they won. It is all about the ‘W'. “In terms of the comparables, it is very much like Leicester in The Premiership. Their season is determined by the number of times they dog out the result. Sometimes winning ugly is beautiful.”
Brooke was kindly invited to the Grand Slam decider by English friends for three days of “a blast of a weekend”. There, he saw the template for Ireland. “They need that relentless, ruthless attitude they showed towards England,” he said. The 2011 Six Nations campaign was racked by the players' inconsistency – and sub-standard officiating against Wales. By the endgame, Ireland had little more to play for than denying England the Grand Slam. Of course, in these parts, that can be a powerful tool: “Maybe that was the turning point for them. Ireland will draw a lot of confidence from that. “They've got to remind themselves of that day and what they did. It was so compelling for me. It was so one-sided. They know they can do it. They have to bring that want, that determination. Can they do it consistently? That is the question.
“For instance, if Ireland can win their last three warm-up matches, especially the final two, they will go to New Zealand with confidence. “If they continue losing they will have issues even before they start against the US Eagles.” Ominous words from the once feared number eight who played 58 tests for the All Blacks, scavenging a then world record 17 tries for a forward and three drop goals, and captained the Auckland Blues to back-to-back Super 12 championships in 1996 and ’97.
Now 46, Brooke has never lost touch with the grassroots of the game. He is currently overseeing the Windsor U9s and U10s as his way of giving back to the game that has given so much to him. He likes the cut of Ireland's jib: “They have got such a good nucleus of players. You could hang your captaincy hat on six or seven of their players. You've got a platform of tight forwards you can work from. “Jamie Heaslip is a big, bolshy, hard-running guy. He is dynamic. David Wallace is just on the other side of the hill, at 35, when it comes to dealing with the Richie McCaws and David Pococks of the world. “If the loose forward trio can be given a platform, they can operate above the ground. Ireland have attacking weapons – the back row, the three quarters.” Overall, the undeniable positives of home court advantage and being the best team and squad in the competition make New Zealand short-odds to bookend the first and seventh Rugby world cups with a second, long overdue title. “It is New Zealand's to lose,” stated Brooke, matter-of-factly.
The burden of expectation weighed too heavily on them in 2007. Indeed, it seems New Zealand go to every World Cup as raging favourites only to falter in the potholes of their journey. Will the claustrophobic nature of being an All Black in a small country cloud their clarity? Will the pressure prove too much? “I don't believe so. The pressure is there just pulling on a black jersey. You respond to that. The All Black team belongs to the people. “Look, New Zealand got themselves into a pickle in 2007 with what was a revolutionary rotation system designed by Graham Henry. He brought two full squads of 46 players to Europe before the World Cup. It worked for them in Europe.
They won a Grand Slam. It didn't work for them against France in the World Cup quarter-final. “In that match, it was 20-18 to France with five minutes to go. They kept going left. They should have went right and set up the play. They were five metres from the French line and they wouldn't take the drop goal. They should have done a drop goal. I would have,” he smiled.