So we are sitting here, 1 cheek on the chair and 1 cheek in the air. Nervous excitement and fear whiff through the air. Ireland moved on from the group into the quarter finals. Not just any normal quarter final but a chance to take a shot at the world’s greatest team.
Anytime you get to test yourself against the best in whatever game / at whatever level you play is something that should always be welcomed. Similar to bullies only challenging people they know they can win, if a team won’t take a shot at the best then what are they?
Ireland has been up and down in terms of outlook in this RWC. Starting with a rollicking win against Scotland, a lethargic performance against Japan and 2 bonus point wins to close out the group. A lot still in the tank, a few tricks shown and hopefully more to come on Saturday morning Bray Standard Time.
So what we need to preface everything that will be said below with is, ‘but they are the All Blacks’
Can Ireland win? Quick answer is yes! Anyone who says Ireland cannot win a game on any given day would be insane. Ireland have gone from a feisty 60 minutes and hang on team, to a team that can strangle the best. It hasn’t always been pretty but it has worked for the most part.
But they are the All Blacks
Firstly to know where we are against New Zealand, you have to know where you have been.
Ireland have played the AB’s 31 times, won twice (in the last 3), drawn 1, and scored 375 points to New Zealand’s 871. That is fairly horrific reading up until you get to the last 3 games. Ireland are 2-1 up in that stat.
So can Ireland win on Saturday morning? Yes they can!
Looking at the squads selected, but coaches are leaving nothing to chance. Ireland going tried and trusted and hoping that the big occasion brings the big performances. Certainly with O’Mahony not being himself so far in the competition there may be that added pressure on him to lead in the brutality stakes. Kearney has been scoring tries but hasn’t had the minutes we would like. Joe picking his trusted team was really the way he was going to go even with the form of Larmour, Conway and even Carty.
The big question from my couch is, with Ireland going through the mill in the group stages, getting bruised up in the heat of battle, New Zealand have been sitting in their hotel, training and working but with no games. Similar to England not being tested, outside of 20 minutes in their opening game, the All Blacks have not been tested and have not looked themselves in the last 12 months. At times sublime at times hammered, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for them either. Ireland are battle tested, together and have had their heart to heart conversations already.
But they are the All Blacks.
In a lot of big games, Ireland THINK they can win whereas now they KNOW they can win. That is a massive difference.
So how can they win?
For Ireland to win, there needs to be 98% stats everywhere. Every single stat must be near 100%. You know the AB’s will be aiming at the lineout, aiming out wide and working hard up the middle to earn the right to go out wide. This is all known, there are very little unknowns going into this game. Ireland must go forward. Put pressure on Richie Mo’Unga, really make him unsure about his next move, or at least hesitating. If that happens you will see the ball move more towards Barrett at full back. As an aside, I love the idea of having a ball player at 15, another decision maker. Just a pity it is against Ireland this weekend. The back row will be a massive battle too. Which is where POM comes back into the game as a leader. He cannot take a backwards step. Savea, Cane and Read are savages. I would put our back row of POM, JVDF and Stander up against them. Stander coming into form is huge. The AB defense may be a source of strength for Ireland. Coming up flat at points opens up space for the ‘Carty dink’. Which could be a trick that Sexton may use at points.
And finally in terms of Ireland we should talk about the elephant in the room. That being the set piece. Ireland have to be perfect or beyond perfect on the day. O’Mahony gives the option of another jumper, the darts have to be perfect and if Ireland can withstand the AB challenge there it can change the game.
But they are the All Blacks.
New Zealand will be offloading like a burglar with a cheap TV. Ireland have to keep the ball, keep control of the ball and any time there is a sniff of putting points on the board, they must take them.
It is real heart versus head stuff here, form and logic say New Zealand, but my heart and every ounce of my being says Ireland.
Nothing will be left behind tomorrow, the lads will leave every single fiber of their being on the pitch. When they do that, Ireland has a chance.
Are you telling me that one any given day, Ireland can’t beat any other team in the world?
Ireland by 3 and we all get a semi!