Sunday 25 March 2018

'We can't keep letting Ireland have 25-point head starts' - All Blacks ramp up intensity

Jerome Kaino of New Zealand during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jerome Kaino of New Zealand during squad training at Garda RFC in Westmanstown, Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There are plenty of words one could use to describe the All Blacks but 'nervous' is certainly not one that you often hear coming from inside their camp.

At their Castleknock base, the New Zealand players casually stroll around the corridors and, on the face of it, they look as calm as ever but behind the scenes, there is an added tension after Ireland ended their 18-match winning streak.

In the hotel lobby, Steve Hansen and his brains trust sit a little less comfortably than they did two weeks ago but there are evidently no panic buttons being pressed just yet.

However, to hear the All Blacks' assistant coach Ian Foster talk about a "nervousness" within the camp will have been music to Joe Schmidt's ears but at the same time, come Saturday, the All Blacks will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and with a point to prove.

Intensity levels went up a notch in yesterday's session with the front-line players who were rested for the facile win over Italy all very much back in the mix.

A decision on the fitness of Sam Whitelock (ankle) will be made later today but Foster stressed that they would not risk the influential second-row unless he is 100pc fit.

"I think we certainly know that we are playing a team that beat us recently," Foster said.

"I still think we are confident in what we do but there's a nice nervousness about it. We know that if we don't front up and play to the best of our ability, we know it is going to be a long night so, to be honest, it's a good feeling.

"It's a nice edge and it forces us to dig a bit deeper and make us prepare to the degree that we take a lot of pride in doing and probably didn't do that good a job of in Chicago.

"There's an edge in the air. Coming to Dublin and preparing to play Ireland is always pretty special for us.

"It's a fantastic stadium, the supporters are amazing and I guess what's happened in Chicago has just added a little bit more seasoning to it, hasn't it?

"The boys are in a good spot. We're following our normal process but there is a bit of an edge, yeah.

"We expect that they'll have a couple of extra tricks but at the end of the day, the basis of their game will remain the same and largely the basis of our game will probably remain the same. There will be little areas that clearly for us, we need to execute better, particularly in that first part of the game. We can't keep letting Ireland have 25-point head starts."

The All Blacks again reviewed the defeat to Ireland when they arrived in Dublin but Foster was reluctant to go into too much detail about what they took from it.

They were clearly rattled by Schmidt's side but more so by their own sloppy execution.

It is a rivalry that is blossoming into one of the most exciting in world rugby but Foster isn't fussed about the familiarity aspect of both teams and coaches heading into Saturday's rematch.

With Schmidt and Hansen set to go head-to-head in another enthralling tactical battle, Jared Payne gets a second chance to go up against familiar faces - this time on his adopted home turf.

At times, people in Ireland fail to appreciate just how good Payne is but Foster, who coached the Ulster player in his early days, is in no doubt about his quality.


"He's a fine player, a good man. He came through the Waikato system and probably left a little bit too early for our liking.

"As much as I would have preferred to see him stick around in New Zealand, he's done so well over here. I spoke to him after the game and I was delighted for him for what he's done. I hope he doesn't do it again!

"He certainly had that potential (to become an All Black). He was determined about how much work he was prepared to put into it. He clearly was. He made a decision to go overseas but he's one that got away I guess."

Jerome Kaino played alongside Payne and, to hear the flanker speak so glowingly about him, hammers home just how respected he is back in New Zealand.

"I've played with him at the Blues and also against him when he was at the Crusaders. I was very proud to see him running out in Irish colours but I wouldn't say proud in Chicago when he beat us," Kaino smiled.

"As a friend, I was proud but we'll have to shut him down this weekend."

The mutual respect will continue long after the final whistle on Saturday.

It's a rarity for the All Blacks to be on the ropes and after Ireland put them there, they must now land the knockout blow.

Irish Independent

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