Already assured of a record international haul in 2021, the All Blacks pitched up in Dublin last night in the hope of adding more points on the Dublin leg of their tour, but maybe not as many pints as they might like.
We have a few things planned,” explains fit again hooker Dane Coles, “but they have to be signed off by the Covid committee.
“It’s good to be back in Ireland, it’s a great place and a shame we can’t get out for a few Guinness. But we have to look after matters on the field first and foremost.”
Coles is a veteran of clashes which have become an occasional epic rivalry in the international game, the visitors edging the recent storied tussles 3-2 since his audacious pass launched Ryan Crotty’s stunning last-gasp success in 2013.
Victory for Ireland in Soldier’s Field, an occasion that launched a thousand DVDs, and a 2018 home win were countered by two defeats, most crushingly the depressingly familiar World Cup blow-out in Tokyo, the most one-sided outcome of the quintet.
“It’s funny how you always think about the ones you’ve lost to be fair,” said the 34-year-old, who helped to guide a callow group over the line in Rome last Saturday.
“I was thinking about it on the plane on the way over here, how close all those games have been in the last five years. They’ve always been down to the wire and could have gone either way. So really tight battles.
“Apart from the World Cup one maybe, but then we were really hurting from those other results. But they had a great win at the weekend and I expect a tight tussle.
“They’re a different beast at home, I reckon. They’ll be feeding off the crowd and full stadium. It’s a great challenge for us.”
A full de-brief today of the scratchy win against Italy will be followed by a more comprehensive assessment of Ireland’s win against Japan.
Assistant coach Scott McLeod’s instant response to Andy Farrell’s progress, since Joe Schmidt left following that World Cup defeat, seemed fairly underwhelming but he did acknowledge Saturday’s obvious shift in playing style.
"We haven't seen a lot of change,” he begun. “They look as though they're wanting to play a little bit more than under Joe.
“We noticed against Japan that there was a lot of offloading and that willingness to play from their own half, which probably they haven't done as much in the past, so that's probably the biggest thing that sticks out to us.
“There's been a few changes in their forwards, their younger loosies, and they have picked up where the other guys have left off in terms of contesting the breakdown and being extremely hard, physical men.
“They got their hands on plenty of Japan's ball yesterday so we're expecting exactly the same threat.
"I think they'll be very smart and play both in different ways. That's what I expect. I don't expect them to play one and then the other.
“They'll mix that up and they will have identified some areas they want to attack us and I'm sure they'll pick the right times they want to do that."
For Coles, while Ireland’s attacking emphasis may change, their defensive commitment will not.
“I said it the last time they just keep on turning up. It seemed like there was no space for us to attack.
“When we lost here, that was the one thing that stood up. They keep turning up. So it’s about finding some space.
“Their defence was awesome, they put some big shots on and put us under pressure. We played too much footie and maybe the kicking game might come into it.”
Two long-lost exiles, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson Park, will pose a twin threat to the ambitions of their erstwhile colleagues as they seek to end 2021 on a high, with France to come at the end of this trip.
“Jamo’s a great man,” gushed his one-time Wellington team-mate. “It’s awesome to see that he came over her with that goal of playing for Ireland. He’s been carving up.
“We watched the Japan highlights and you boys gave them a bit of a drumming and he had a huge part to play. It’s cool to see Jamo go against the All Blacks. It will be a special game for him. We teamed quite nicely at the ‘Canes and it will be nice to see him.”
Lowe, who supported Jonathan Sexton as one of several auxiliary play-makers against Japan, will also be keenly watched by the AB’s brains trust.
"He's powerful,” observed McLeod. “Watching Japan, he seemed to be in Johnny's sleeve the whole time. He was sitting around there in the back waiting with him and he went through a few holes off him.
“That wasn't often the wing, he came into the midfield and poked his nose around a bit. They use his left foot really well, he's got a long kicking game. A lot of the boys know him so I'm sure they'll be looking forward to reacquainting themselves on the field.
“Johnny is huge for the team and the team wanted to play for him by the looks of things as well. He's involved in all of their play, how it needs to go, and how it gets there.
“He's an extremely experienced man and knows what's in front of him and how to put the team around the park really well, and how to use his strengths. Yeah, he's definitely one we've had a close look at also."
McLeod referenced the fact that his side have termed this the “tour like no other” as Ian Foster’s side aim to finish 2021 atop the global pile, the only pockmark a defeat to dethroned number one side South Africa in September’s Rugby Championship dead rubber.
“We’re under no illusions that if we don’t perform this week, it takes away a lot of the hard work all year to kind of turn things around from last year,” adds Coles as his side seek to return south with a final flourish up north.
“It’s still one week at a time, but these are two he games against quality oppositions and hopefully afterwards people can look back and say it was a good year for us. But we have to worry about Ireland first.”