No shortage of respect as Kiwis' perception of Ireland improves
There was a time in the not too distant past that you would arrive at a New Zealand rugby press conference and the Kiwis would struggle to name a single Irish player.
At a push, Sean O'Brien was invariably the one who was mentioned in passing but that has changed in recent years.
The historic win in Chicago has had a massive say in that, as does the fact that two Kiwis, in Joe Schmidt and Greg Feek, have helped transform Ireland into a realistic challenger for the All Blacks' title as the world's No 1 side.
The perception at the other side of world is different now than it once was and at the All Blacks' press conference yesterday, it was noticeable how Ryan Crotty and Dane Coles rattled off a couple of Irish players of their own accord.
"That's a good question," Crotty, who broke Irish hearts with his last-gasp try in 2013, said when asked about that change of attitude.
"'Colesy' alluded to the fact about how much they have improved over the course of the last six to 10 years.
"They are just an outstanding rugby side. I don't think they've never not been seen in that light. They have always been a top-tier nation.
"There is a lot of respect, definitely. I think they are coached really, really well.
"I don't know if the perception has changed but I think the respect is definitely there that they are one of best teams in world rugby."
Hooker Coles (31), who was sitting beside Crotty (30), echoed the centre's thoughts.
"They've definitely got a more all-round game. They're not the classic team who just scrums and drives, their skill-sets are huge and we've felt defeat and stuff like that.
"They can actually play, the forwards have great skill-sets, we have massive respect for them.
"They've probably added their own little taste to international footy over the last six, seven years, so it's good."
With Johnny Sexton being put up for media duties at the same time in Carton House, it felt like the presence of Crotty and Coles was something of a statement from the All Blacks.
After all, the pair both came off the bench and combined to devastating effect as they denied Ireland a first victory over New Zealand with a try in the 82nd minute at the Aviva Stadium in 2013.
"I remember Dane did all the work and I didn't have to do anything," Crotty laughed.
"Since then I have had to apologise to every Irishman I have met. It was special, 2013, nice to win really.
"The boys are excited to be back, it is a great city to be in and this is an immensely tough opponent this weekend."
Three years after that heart-breaking defeat, Crotty and Coles had established themselves as first-choice All Blacks and both started the defeat in Chicago when Ireland dished out a taste of their own medicine.
In more recent times, however, Coles has been struggling with concussion, which has seen him miss plenty of action, but the events of Soldier Field are nevertheless fresh in his memory.
"I think we're doing everything in our power for that not to happen again, because we were both involved in Chicago and it wasn't a great feeling," Coles admitted.
"We can talk about history and stuff like that, but it's all about this week.
"Both teams have had a lot of drama, like 2013 when we pulled off that magic win. In 2016, they got us. But those things aren't going to help you this week. It's a new year, new players and I'm sure both teams will want to feel that feeling again.
"We won't be dipping into the past for extra motivation. There'll be plenty of motivation just to concentrate on this week and hopefully get the job done."
With Sonny Bill Williams set to miss Saturday's clash through injury, Crotty will assume his role at inside centre, which, fitness permitting, will set up a mouth-watering battle with Bundee Aki.
The pair came up against each other plenty of times during Aki's Super Rugby days with the Chiefs, and the Crusaders' Crotty knows what to expect from Ireland's powerhouse.
"It's awesome to see Bundee going so well over here," Crotty added.
"I remember playing against him for the Crusaders against the Chiefs, and he was a great player back then and he's just come on leaps and bounds since he's been over here, so it's cool to see him getting this opportunity."
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