Saturday 25 November 2017

Wounded Ireland ready to rumble

Best daring to dream as Kidney's underdogs look to lift spirits of nation with famous victory

Members of the Irish team warm up during the captain's run ahead of their Autumn International game against New Zealand on today. Photo: Sportsfile
Members of the Irish team warm up during the captain's run ahead of their Autumn International game against New Zealand on today. Photo: Sportsfile

Hugh Farrelly

NO Declan Kidney or Brian O'Driscoll at yesterday's captain's run press conference after their appearance at the delayed team announcement the day before and, for the Ireland coach and captain, there is a sense that there has been enough sound bites. It's time for action.

Instead, it was hooker Rory Best -- one of the squad's designated leaders -- and backs coach Alan Gaffney who set the scene for this showdown with the All Blacks, with several notches up on what has gone before.

It may not be a sell-out at Lansdowne Road, but it will be pretty close, with far more supporters travelling from around the country than was the case for the South Africa and Samoa matches.

The IRFU have less than 300 of the New Zealand-Argentina packages left and they are available for walk-in purchases today at the union offices on Lansdowne Road.

A lot has been made of the psychological barriers facing Ireland this evening, based on a disastrous 105-year record against the All Blacks, and more than one pundit has predicted a 40-point win for New Zealand. However, there is a determination about the Irish this week and Best and Gaffney both agree that the daunting prospect of playing a side as powerful and as in-form as this New Zealand outfit creates it own, positive energy.

"We don't want to eliminate all aspects of fear, a little bit of fear can be a good thing," said Best. "It can drive you to places you didn't think you could bring your body. There is a lot of experience in this team -- two Heineken Cup-winners with two different provinces, a Grand Slam and Magners Leagues.


"These are experienced guys who have dealt with big games before and once the whistle goes, it's 15 versus 15. Okay, they are a particularly good 15, but we have confidence in our own ability, we have proven it against everyone except New Zealand. These players will rise again.

"There is a real desire to have a performance," added Best. "We haven't had an 80-minute performance over two games. That desire sometimes manifests itself in people being tetchy, which maybe was the case this week.

"Winning would give everyone a lift, throughout the island; to do something that has never been done. The people of Ireland love to see national teams doing well. We want to go out and give a performance that will give everyone a lift."

Gaffney said that full-back Rob Kearney didn't train yesterday but that it was "nothing untoward" and that he had noticed an edge to the Irish sessions this week.

"Training has been infinitely better than what we've trained for the past two weeks. The weather has been better, which has no doubt helped," said Gaffney.

"There has been a lot of confidence and the amount of ball down has been very slight. It's hardly been there. There has been a lot of pace on it and very accurate. If we can transfer that from the training pitch on to the pitch, we'll be very happy about that.

"We weren't accurate against South Africa and we understand that, despite the conditions. We want to go out and be playing an attacking brand of rugby, as do the New Zealanders, obviously. We need to go out and attack and play that style. That's the brand that Declan and the coaches have agreed we'll play.

"I think everyone, including the players, are totally behind that. If we're able to go and do that, and the weather stays like this, as we understand it will, then there's no reason we can't do it," he added.

"I don't see a psychological effect on anybody within the group and I see there is a belief that it's going to happen one day. So why not now?"

Irish Independent

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