Tuesday 20 February 2018

Johnny O'Connor: Watch out All Blacks - Joe Schmidt's boys are ready

Local graduates fly Connacht flag and stand out in fine Canada win

Tiernan O’Halloran showed what he could do in an Ireland jersey against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile
Tiernan O’Halloran showed what he could do in an Ireland jersey against Canada. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny O'Connor

I'm going to put my neck on the line here and say Ireland will beat the All Blacks again this weekend in Dublin.

Everything points towards the reigning world champions, coming to the Aviva, putting on a show, and leaving with a big victory. But the psychological damage that Ireland inflicted on them last time out could make a massive difference.

Everyone expects the backlash. This is a mean New Zealand team who have extra motivation to overturn the Chicago result and seek revenge on the team who ended their brilliant winning run.

But maybe that might get a bit too much for New Zealand. A lot of rugby is based on the mental aspect; players need to have the bit between their teeth to go out and put in the hard yards that take a huge physical toll on their body.

However, there's so much more to rugby than just brawn. It's the reason Irish rugby has been at the top of the game for years now.

They have the mentality to win through adversity, and now they must stick to the game plan this weekend, and let the All Blacks go out and beat themselves.

In the wider scheme of things, last weekend's victory over Canada was facile, but it did provide Joe Schmidt with some headaches. And in fairness to the Connacht guys, I don't think they could have done much better on the day.

It's a wonderful tribute to what's going on in the Sportsground right now when you see four tries and the man of the match award going to players from west of the Shannon.

Ultan Dillane was a wrecking ball all evening. His sheer athleticism is such a remarkable trait and it's a huge asset to both Connacht and Ireland going forward.

Tiernan O'Halloran was brilliant from full-back, and his first try showed all of what he is about. He hadn't a chance to show his full potential in an Irish jersey before this and that performance was something that will take his game on a few notches.

Kieran Marmion was brilliant from the base of the ruck all day. He did great work to set up Keith Earls for his try in the left corner. And it was an opportunistic piece of play, when he got to ball first, at the back of the pile of bodies in the second half, for his try.


Finlay Bealham had another stellar performance at tighthead prop as well, and his game just continues to go from strength to strength. He has a big future in green. As, hopefully, does Niyi Adeolokun who came off the bench for his debut.

All in all, Connacht were very well represented in the game, and the plaudits must go to the academy structures that are bringing these players through, and giving them the platform to launch onto the big stage.

The five Connacht guys who played for Ireland last weekend all grew under Nigel Carolan's tutelage and it's a mark of the man, that they have gone so far in the game.

But this weekend it's back to square one for Ireland as they prepare for the onslaught that awaits them at Aviva Stadium.

The All Blacks will be smarting ever since they limped off the hallowed turf of Soldier Field.

New Zealand certainly don't lose very often and took a lot of their anger out on Italy last weekend. It was always going to be a tough outing for the Italians, and it lived up to its billing with the All Blacks showing they mean business for the rest of their northern hemisphere tour.

But that's not to say they didn't give it a right lash in Chicago either. Their eye might have been slightly off the ball, but they still gave Ireland one hell of a test, especially in the second half when they started to run in the tries, but crucially Ireland responded.

It was a character-building experience for this side, and taught them that no matter who they face they have the capabilities to get a winning performance across the line.

The crucial thing this weekend is that Ireland bring the ferocious gain-line speed again.

I don't see them slacking off anyway, but still any chink will be exposed.

It was fantastic to see Ireland finally get their first win over New Zealand last time out. But if they could back that up this weekend, it could make all the difference for the future of this team.

Irish Independent

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