Thursday 22 February 2018

Perfect 10 selection key to Ireland hopes - Humphreys

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

REVERT back to 2001 to a heaving Lansdowne Road. The scoreboard shows Ireland are leading the All Blacks 21-7 shortly after half-time. Out-half on the day David Humphreys remembers thinking they could finally break their duck.

"We were well up just after half-time," he recalled. "I thought this was going to be the first time that Ireland ever beat New Zealand."

We're in the week before the All Blacks come to town, so tales of near misses are what Ireland trade on. From the team Warren Gatland started that day, only Brian O'Driscoll, Peter Stringer, John Hayes and David Wallace are still in the picture.

For New Zealand, Ireland's newly appointed scrum coach Greg Feek was in action against a front-row of Peter Clohessy, Keith Wood and Hayes, while a flanker called Richie McCaw made his debut that day and he's the only All Black still active.

Ireland had just beaten England 20-14 and they carried that form into the opening half of the game.

However, New Zealand scored 33 points in 30 second-half minutes to maintain their flawless record. John Mitchell, in his first Test as All Blacks coach, offered consolation. "That was one of the best Irish sides I've seen," he said. Near misses and what might have been.


There is no similar line of form this time around and Humphreys sees an Irish side shorn of belief.

"Sport is about confidence. Some of the Irish players aren't playing with the same confidence they were 12 months ago," he said, as Heineken take the Webb Ellis trophy on a tour of Ireland for November. "But it only takes a lucky bounce or an intercept to score under the posts and players feel they are on top of their game again.

"Ireland are making unforced errors from players you wouldn't expect but everyone goes through a phase in their career where it is up and down and that's why you are always trying to peak for the big games."

Humphreys sees Kidney's choice at No 10 as key. Whether Ronan O'Gara or Jonathan Sexton starts will tell a lot about Ireland's game plan. "Both players bring very different things to the team," he said. "Rog has been there for so long and his leadership is huge. Jonny has burst on to the scene in the last 18 months or so and has made a huge impact.

"They are players who have proven at Leinster, Munster and for Ireland that they can win games for you. It is a case of picking players on form and a lot has to as well with whether Declan is looking purely and simply to win this game or taking a 12-month view as to who will start at the World Cup.

"There are a huge number of factors. You're never going to keep everyone happy. You see the way the All Blacks played against Scotland. It was absolutely incredible. But this is a game where Ireland know there's a huge amount at stake for their credibility."

Irish Independent

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