Saturday 17 March 2018

Neil Francis: Ireland fans can feast on a double dose of The Untouchables

Hansen's mob have taken game to another level so expect no mercy for Irish in Chicago

New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to their match against South Africa (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
New Zealand players perform the Haka prior to their match against South Africa (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I was in Chicago two summers ago with the missus. It really is one of the great cities of the world. You don't need me to tell you what to do and see there.

Early next month 61,500 people will pack into Soldier Field to watch Ireland play New Zealand. I expect two-thirds of those spectators will be either Irish or of Irish descent. The fixture has attracted huge attention and I believe it is sold out. It promises to be a great occasion - the trip that is - not the match!

If any of you are going to the game, while you are in Chicago you should go on the 'Untouchables' tour - it is just fantastic. Essentially, it is the original gangster tour of Chicago. The guides turn up wearing pinstripe suits and carrying violin cases and they ham it up as gangsters for the customers. They bring you on a bus to all of the gangster hotspots of the 1920s and '30s and show you where Al Capone, Bugs Moran and John Dillinger used to hang out, the sites of the Valentine's Day Massacre and where Dillinger met his end.

A super tour and named after the movie 'The Untouchables' starring Robert De Niro, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. If you have time while you are over there - do the tour.

The only problem is that there are going to be two 'untouchable' tours in Chicago that weekend. The All Blacks won't be needing Tommy guns, switchblades or knuckledusters when they take out Baby Face Joe Schmidt and his boys.

We are a day away from Heineken action and normally this column would be looking forward to the big games involving the Irish provinces, but events in Durban compel me to focus on the All Black versus Springbok game last Saturday.

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett scores a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett scores a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Our American friends have so over-used the adjective 'awesome' that it has practically lost its meaning. The 57-15 nine-tries-to-nil performance in Kings Park was simply jaw-dropping.

A rout suggests that your opponents gave up at some juncture. South Africa kept on making their tackles but in all sectors of play they were binary in expression. It was a spirit-sapping and chastening experience for the Boks who have a decent roster available to them but were made to look like Accrington Stanley.

Whenever you label a side 'untouchable' the nomenclature normally weighs you down - but not this lot. Apparently, Steve Hansen was still unhappy with aspects of his team's performance. Madre de Dios!

Let's call it as it is. The South Africans are in a heap. Pieter de Villiers was clueless when he was appointed. Heyneke Meyer was a big disappointment and Allister Coetzee has no idea what he is doing. There is talent in the South African squad but Coetzee has no notion how to harness it. Meyer couldn't make it work either but the graph is only going in one direction.

The player drain to Europe and political stipulations that 60pc of the Springbok team be black African by the 2019 World Cup will make things twice as bad. The team that traditionally caused New Zealand the most trouble - the team that consistently beat them most often - are now in freefall and the likelihood is that they will never really recover themselves to be a threat to New Zealand again. One team is going backwards - one team going forward and that team are pushing boundaries that we thought were impenetrable.

For many years this result was coming and people will debate what damage will be done to the game because South Africa are weak and getting weaker and England and Australia, while competitive and well coached, are still going to be coughing up the vapour trails behind New Zealand. I personally don't think it is bad for the world game. I watched too much rugby last Saturday - Munster versus Leinster, Leinster 'A' versus Ulster 'A' and Australia versus Argentina. There was merit in all those offerings but I could watch a loop of the Durban game ad infinitum.

New Zealand's TJ Perenara and Kieran Read celebrate scoring a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
New Zealand's TJ Perenara and Kieran Read celebrate scoring a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

New Zealand for generations have been the first to see the next step in the evolution of the game and two or three seasons later when we've all copped on to what they are doing - they have already revised it and are thinking further ahead to the next step.

Having played against them and watched them for years, the first thing you notice is that they are always the fittest team in world rugby. I have always used the analogy of running 1,500 metres at 100-metre pace.

You can stick with them for maybe 60 but they go up a gear and burn you off. They scored four tries in the last 10 minutes in Durban - not because South Africa had thrown in the towel but because they were out on their feet.

There is no charity in the way New Zealand play. The obvious example would be to make a comparison between Leinster and the All Blacks. When Leinster are points up and feel they have the game won, they stop playing and turn the ball over. When the Kiwis, go ahead and the game is over as a contest, they try to stick another 30 points on their hapless opponents.

Last Saturday with the score at 50-15 and the clock in red there was ample opportunity to kick it dead. Why kick it dead when you can score another try? They also are blowing hard but they test themselves to see if their skills and handling are up to it.

They don't let themselves down and Liam Squire scored in the corner in the 83rd minute. If there had been another 10 minutes they would have scored another four tries. You never get tired of watching rugby as it should be played.

There were some truly astonishing tries scored with the usual potent mix of pace onto the ball, hands up over the tackle and the extra-sensory perception of where to anticipate the offload - it was just mesmerising.

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett and Tawera Kerr-Barlow celebrate a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett and Tawera Kerr-Barlow celebrate a try. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

The most fascinating try was Beauden Barrett's second try as he got put away by Liam Squire on the halfway. Just when Jerome Kaino hits his mid-thirties the All Blacks 'find' a 25-year-old, 6 foot 5 inch, 18-stone blindside flanker with incredible pace, soft hands and real football intelligence.

Squire takes two Boks out with a beautiful offload and Barrett accepts the invitation. The All Black out-half has bewildering pace and he scorches up the left-hand side. Jesse Kriel, the replacement Bok centre, has gas and he chases across on the angle. It wasn't even a contest as Barrett got to the line so far ahead of Kriel it was embarrassing.

As a consolation, Kriel would cut him off to keep the conversion out in the tramlines - the South African couldn't even do that and Barrett dotted down under the sticks. It's great if your out-half has great passing hands but if he has blistering pace too he will cut you to shreds if he likes running the ball.

To see Morne Steyn out of the grave, brought back to kick goals up against him - it just showed a stunning lack of ambition.

New Zealand missed three tackles all game - there is currently an inquiry going on! Unless the entire squad end up in the wheelchair jacks at O'Hare Airport then this team is going to be untouchable.

Where was I? Oh yes, Wrigley Field, the Sears Tower, Lake Michigan, Trump Tower … Enjoy the trip, folks.

Irish Independent

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