By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
IRELAND ENDURED a miserable evening at Eden Park last weekend, the All Blacks running in five tries in a comprehensive 42-10 win to ensure their unbeaten run against the men in green remained intact.
It may have been New Zealand’s first outing since the World Cup final last October and they may have capped three new players, but they still looked far and away the best side in the world. They just have that innate ability to consistently churn out performances of the highest standard. So are there any glimmers of hope for the Irish in Christchurch on Saturday?
Changing of the guard
New Zealand have made only one change to the side from the first Test, Adam Thomson replacing the injured Victor Vito. He’s been in great form in this year’s Super Rugby so they are unlikely to lose anything there. In fact, Ireland may find it tougher at the breakdown.
Declan Kidney has brought in four new players to the starting line-up. Andrew Trimble adds his considerable experience to the wing with Simon Zebo dropping to the bench and his defensive attributes will need to come to the fore. Gordon D’Arcy is also likely to bolster Ireland’s defensive line, which was caught out a few times in Auckland, but they will miss the creative edge Keith Earls (injured) provided at 12 last week.
Up front, Mike Ross has proved his fitness and replaces Declan Fitzpatrick, who held up well against Tony Woodcock. Ross will be looking to gain an edge at scrum time for Ireland, while flanker Kevin McLaughlin will add a more athletic presence at the lineout and in the loose.
The key axis
New Zealand’s half-back pairing of Dan Carter and Aaron Smith stood out last week. They may be at opposite ends of their careers but they linked superbly and completely dictated the game. Smith’s service was sublime and he timed his runs perfectly, while Carter was able to mix up the game with floated passes, various kicks and the odd break too.
If Ireland are to avoid another heavy defeat they must put far more pressure on these two. Sean O’Brien needs to get in their faces and give them less time to make those important decisions. Do that, and the All Blacks’ game will be disrupted.
It’s a sellout in Christchurch as Test rugby returns to the city for the first time since the earthquake. Not only will that create an emotionally-charged atmosphere in the crowd but the All Blacks will have that extra grain of motivation to secure another victory.
Brian O’Driscoll’s side will be highly motivated themselves as Ireland are still searching for that first win over New Zealand and they need to show a little more ferocity than last week. The intent was there in Auckland but the accuracy wasn’t – and they need to up their physicality in attack and defence.
Unfortunately for Ireland I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel – I think it’ll be another defeat but maybe not quite as heavy: a 25-point winning margin for the ABs.
New Zealand v Ireland, Saturday 16 June, 8.35am BST, Christchurch, Live on Sky Sports 2
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg; Zac Guildford, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea; Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read.
Replacements: Hikawera Elliot, Ben Franks, Ali Williams, Sam Cane, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith
IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll (captain), Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Declan Fitzpatrick, Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter O’Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Simon Zebo.