So we’ve all had time to digest and dissect the Irish performance, listen to a few excuses from Kidney and suggest where Ireland can improve. So what’s the reaction been to that 1st test in New Zealand? Unsurprisingly, most of the focus has been on the excellence of the All Blacks. While the Irish press have been quick to laud the clinical world champions, the New Zealanders haven’t spent too much time looking at the Irish display.
There has been a general and widespread satisfaction with the All Blacks’ performance. The impact of debutants Julian Savea, Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick has been repeatedly highlighted. Savea’s hattrick made him an obvious inclusion in the headlines, with even his own mother reckoning he “did really well.” Smith’s mum “cried her eyes out” as he ran out to win his first cap. Meanwhile, the Otago Daily Times felt that “it all seemed a bit easy” for the beastly Savea.
Toby Robson pointed out that most players “struggle to adjust to the increased speed and physicality of test match rugby”. While most of Ireland’s new faces certainly struggled to catch their breath at times, Robson felt that the new All Blacks had no such problems. Aaron Smith solidified Robson’s suggestion when he claimed that “I’ll definitely be keen for faster ball. It would be cool to speed the game up even more.”
The thought of Smith firing even quicker ball out to the imperious Dan Carter is a scary thought for Irish fans. One potential saviour may be the poor weather predicted for Christchurch this weekend. Tony Smith wrote that the possible cold and wet could “come to Ireland’s aid”. Ireland competed aggressively at the breakdown last Saturday and did well to slow the All Blacks’ ball at certain stages. In the same piece, All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster admitted, “We had trouble in certain parts of the game at getting rid of their tackler at their first arrival.” He was clearly referring to Sean O’Brien, and the Tullow man will need to put in a similar performance on Saturday.
The display of Dan Carter at outhalf was hard to ignore, and the New Zealand media did nothing of the sort. Wynne Gray of the New Zealand Herald wrote that Carter had “taunted the Irish with his array of skills” and that’s hard to argue with. At times it appeared that Ireland couldn’t even get a hand on Carter as he floated around the pitch. Apparently the outhalf feels that he wasn’t really part of last year’s World Cup success. Writing for stuff.co.nz, Marc Hinton claimed that this was sad, “but not bad.” Ominously for Ireland, Hinton feels that Carter is now “a man on a mission”.
Let’s be honest, the All Blacks were a joy to watch, regardless of the fact that they were hammering Ireland. It’s a joy that the players themselves say is starting to come through within the squad. Ali Williams has pointed out that the squad have a “refreshing new mindset” after winning the World Cup. He admitted that having that monkey off their backs meant the All Blacks could be more focused on the “here and now, rather than in front.” Meanwhile, Isreal Dagg spoke about how much “fun” the All Blacks backline had against Ireland.
The critics agree. Toby Robson feels that this New Zealand side “could be fun.” He also made the valid point that while “Ireland’s players were tense and poker faced, the All Blacks, including those on debut, were relaxed and smiling, even early in the test.” It’s difficult to disagree with that. While the New Zealanders looked chilled, the Irish were uptight, particularly the new additions to the side. As the Whiff of Cordite lads pointed out, Darren Cave “looked like he had seen a ghost”.
So what are the New Zealanders predicting for the 2nd test? Well, it’s not good news. Steve Hansen has indicated he won’t be making big changes to the starting team (Although Nonu looks set to start ahead of SBW). In the NZ Herald, Chris Rattue thinks Declan Kidney’s side “are in for one helluva hiding in the second test, and heaven help them in the third.” While many of us Irish supporters were encouraged by certain aspects of the Irish display in the 1st test, Rattue thought Ireland were a “decidedly inferior team playing wild rugby”. Finally, assistant coach Ian Foster is promising more from the All Blacks in the 2nd test. None of this bodes well for Ireland, but at least we’re having the craic!
Photos courtesy: Chris Zielecki, Geof Wilson.