So here we go! Ireland have an opportunity to take on the reigning and defending world champions, they have a chance to take a scalp and they have a chance to really put a marker down ahead of the world cup year.
The teams have been selected and if we concentrate on Ireland (seeing as the All Blacks are frightening). Outside of Murray being out the team nearly picks itself. He is a long term injury so Marmion would have been told he is running out on Saturday. Sean O’Brien being out is gutting but he is coming back from long term injury and the switch for Leavy is not something to worry the Irish support. Henshaw being out would normally be a big deal, but Aki has really stepped up in this calendar year. Trimmed down a bit, sped up the feet a bit and brings massive dynamism to the team. Henshaw plays like a 100 capper and will be missed, the game will roll slightly different with Aki. Not worse, just different.
The team named:
That is some team to pick and the fruits of the labour that Joe and his team have been doing in making the ‘team’ into a ‘squad’. Ireland now have addressed the issue that stopped them against Argentina in the last world cup. That is something that will help next year, so what will happen this Saturday?
New Zealand roll in looking to put the second best team back in their box. They want that green scalp. They want to send a message and they come in off a tough win last week against England. England stood up to them and it disrupted them a bit. Can Ireland do the same thing? The wet blanket rugby, the strangulation rugby and the pressure to penalties game. Will that kill the world champions? To me, it appears that for Ireland to win, they have to operate at at least 90% for the entire match, keep the discipline and take every single point on offer. If Ireland win it is a death by a thousand cuts scenario. Early pressure and aggression to disrupt the All Blacks. For New Zealand, they have targets all over the Irish lineout. Even with Toner back in, there is a possibility for inconsistency in the lineout. When It goes right, it is nearly unstoppable, but if it goes badly, it is hard to bring it back. Toner to take control, Ryan to continue his massive workload of power play and disruption and Best must know he has to get everything right. This is the game where the top players must produce. This is THE test for the Irish captain. Ringrose being in the midfield is massive too. He can play ball as well as find holes in a defence. Almost another playmaker which takes pressure of Sexton and Marmion which will help with their game management.
As you can see there is a string going through this team that needs to remain intact. If that remains intact, Ireland have a chance.
The worry is that the team haven’t been playing in their usual 85% output that was there in the 6 nations. Even with the differing selection in the first 2 games, the usual intensity wasn’t always there. Maybe it was because this game was always on their minds, but it is a worry. Ireland cannot allow anything to dip below 90%. The fitness is there.
Basically, Ireland need to win every single battle on Saturday. They have to get on the bus faster, put their shorts on faster and get the aggression up faster to compete. A massive amount of things has to go right for Ireland to win. New Zealand only have to operate at their normal to be in front.
The last issue is the referee. Wayne Barnes. Good when the game is running smoothly but when it gets frantic he is as good at making decisions as I am in the chipper at 4 am. That being not good at all. He is another piece of the puzzle. The high tackle rules will be applied fully and whoever is on the end of that decision will lose the game. Aside from the loss of a player, Barnes will pick his side after that penalty.
So how will it go?
Every morning this week I have woken up feeling a different emotion. A win, a loss, a draw and a hammering. All of these have run through my head and all are possible.
For Ireland to win, there cannot be any weak links in any area. Aki missed a tackle last week, he won’t do that this week. The set piece must be 100%, not a good 90% but 100%! There is massive pressure on every player to operate at beyond full capacity. If Ireland can squeeze a couple of penalties out of New Zealand early and Sextons boots have the radar on it might bring on that green wet blanket to smother the world champions. For New Zealand to win, they just have to keep calm and play their game. Hopefully Ireland can stop them doing that.
Both teams need that scalp to send a message, to show the changes over the last year have worked and to have bragging rights going into 2019.
It is real heart versus head stuff. The head says New Zealand by at least a score after a tough game. But my heart says Ireland by 3 after a tough game.
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