Friday 15 December 2017

Ireland will have to be exceptional to even get close to All Blacks in one of the games

Neil Francis

Neil Francis

New Zealand aren't at full strength right now but they don't need to be, writes Neil Francis

I did admire how forthright and candid most Ulster people were before the Heineken Cup final. Ulster had a dreadful run with only one win in 17 against Leinster. That would most assuredly change at some stage and no better day than that Saturday at Twickenham in the big kahuna. Bound to happen -- it was written in the scriptures . . . 42-12.

Ireland have not replicated the same braggadocio in relation to their less-than-lofty expectations for their tour of New Zealand, but I can pretty much guarantee the same scoreline. One of the three Tests will have a 42-12 scoreline. Could even be the first one.

Whose idea was a three-Test series? Yes, it is all about reciprocation. But three Tests against that lot?

I saw a great Gary Larson cartoon from The Far Side a while back. The caption was 'great moments in science' and there was a picture of a bemused Einstein having a Eureka moment. The bubble says 'Einstein discovers that time is actually money'.

The SANZA sides threatened to boycott the 2015 World Cup in England if the IRB did not come up with what they considered an equitable share of the spoils from the World Cup. The IRB eventually relented, coughed up £10m between them all and acceded to a far greater divvy from the forthcoming World Cup in England. Let's see if there are any new demands when they come up to Europe in November.

The Super 14 hasn't finished yet because it is now the Super 15. There is an international (revenue generation) window which opened up yesterday for a three-week period. It was one of the things I applauded about southern hemisphere rugby; they would have their provincial/club championship over by the time northern hemisphere teams would travel down to get spanked. The Super 15 final is pencilled in for the August 4 after which the Rugby Championship (the Tri Nations with the Argies included) comes directly into play.

When the class actions brought by grievously fatigued players with chronic and repetitive injuries come to the fore, as is happening in the NFL, no one will be surprised.

Rugby is a violent collision sport. The Euros are starting this week and you can get away with playing fem-ball on a continuous basis, not rugby. Three Tests? Reciprocation, fixture fulfilment and, as Einstein found out, money.

You would wonder about the New Zealand rugby public's tolerance for turkey-shoots and whether their premium sports channels will have any interest in these three Tests. The pattern is normally a two-Test series with a close match and then a less-than-close match. The exception to the status quo was 2008 in Wellington. Ireland arrived with a pretty decent side and a feisty pack and on a horrible Wellington day couldn't sustain their initial impetus and fell off to a 22-11 defeat, which is as good as you are going to get in New Zealand.

There is no shifting baseline syndrome here and the next tour ended up a 66-28 tonking after Jamie Heaslip was sent off for doing what any right-thinking rugby man would have done, trying to take Richie McCaw's back off as he cheated another side out of a try on his own try-line.

Like with every pack of cigarettes there should be a health warning or a disclaimer, don't travel down unless you think you can win, because we'll duff you if you don't.

Ireland travel with a far weaker side than played in 2008 and 2010. New Zealand are hardly in rude health themselves but even with average sides the brand of rugby they play is pretty much impossible to deal with. If you looked at the side that took the field against France last November, it was not exactly bursting out with quality. If you took a composite team of all the New Zealand squads going back to say 1987, only McCaw of the team that started the final would get into that side.

New Zealand have lost some real quality from that team -- Jerome Kaino is in Japan; Piri Weepu and Jimmy Cowan are believed to have some personal issues; Keven Mealamu has chronic calf problems; Richard Kahui is in a long-term injury situation and the bloke who goes around collecting medals in prestigious competitions has retired from All Black duty.

There are rich seams of quality still in the team -- McCaw, Read and Vito or Thomson in the back row and Carter -- although not anywhere near his best -- will be partnered by Aaron Smith. Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retalich are not the biggest meanest rootinest tootinest second rows that I've ever seen but we're in the realm of scratching for reassurance because Ireland are on the cusp, or the edge, of a quality control deficit.

The cliché for player opportunity says that you are an injury away from a cap. If you conduct an audit on the player quality we have, there is a knee-tottering sphincter-loosening realisation that we are back down to barely having 15 left who are just about international class. Ireland can put out a decent starting XV, that's it.

They will pick up four or five injuries in the three games which means we will be exposed horribly. When Richard Nixon failed in his earlier presidential campaign, he signed off at that stage by saying to the press that they wouldn't have Dicky Nixon to kick around anymore.

Tony Buckley will watch the series from the warmth and safety of his house in Manchester. The press can't kick him around no more. With Mike Ross a major doubt for Saturday's opening Test, we have the unlikely scenario of Declan Fitzpatrick coming onto the park to win a cap for Ireland.

Cian Healy has the athletic profile and body mass index for the modern prop, Fitzpatrick does not. In those player profiles in the programmes under 'favourite food', seconds might be the appropriate answer.

It is unacceptable for a professional player, even a prop, one who gets injured regularly, to carry more poundage than is necessary. Fitzpatrick might be able to lock a scrum against Edinburgh but it's pretty hard to catch your breath when the All Blacks turn the heat up. We will see if he can scrummage then.

Ireland will have to pull something exceptional out of the bag to get even close in just one of the Tests. It is a bit like the trainee at the sky diving school who, after a few months, asked the instructor "how many successful jumps do you need to make before you graduate?" The instructor replied "all of them."

When you play the All Blacks -- to win -- you need to get everything right. How many tackles do you need to make? All of them. How many chances do you need to convert? All of them. How many fit players does Declan Kidney need? All of them.

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