Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: We need Ireland to give ABs a scare

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The Irish will also face an All Black pack minus the Tower of Power Brad Thorn, and there is a major hole in form and experience in the locking department. Photo / Getty Images
The Irish will also face an All Black pack minus the Tower of Power Brad Thorn, and there is a major hole in form and experience in the locking department. Photo / Getty Images

Come on, Ireland. Get cocky, get fired up and do what you've never done before and beat the All Blacks in a test match.

Ireland's unique three-test series against the All Blacks, which begins at Eden Park on Saturday week, could be a revelation, although there is also the horrible and more likely possibility of a lemon series emerging.

Nothing would get the juices flowing like an Irish victory in the first test and that's what I hope happens.

The thought of a comprehensive All Black victory and the Irish sinking in the next two before slinking out of the country to the sound of a collective snore brings on the sort of dread that overwhelms the senses every time the Blues run on to a rugby field.

The last whiz-bang operation to arrive on these shores was the Lions tour of 2005 and all the excited build-up ended in the garbage bin as Clive Woodward's highly prepared lot rose to the task with all the charm of a cake packed full of goodies but without any baking powder.

Those of us who had reminisced about wonderful tours past and pressed for more of the same crept off to a corner and licked our wounds. The most magical squad to tour this country was Carwyn James' 1971 Lions and the heart glows when you think on that wonderful team, despite the historic All Black series defeat. Unfortunately, that tour was an exception to the rule that Northern Hemisphere teams flop in New Zealand, although a struggling England side caused the shock of shocks at Eden Park just a couple of years after that memorable Lions adventure.

The smashing thing about a test series is the way rivalries and dramas can develop, but for that to happen you need a decent contest. Ireland - who are flying under the radar compared to that much-vaunted Lions tour - will arrive here a little battered and bruised with the unfortunate likelihood that they will capitulate.

But we who revel in real contests can live in hope and Ireland have reasons for optimism. The All Blacks will be playing under a new coach, and the bulk of their World Cup players have either departed, been battling injuries or are not in top form.

Rather than stamp their superiority on the game, the World Cup final exposed a fragility in the All Blacks if they are confronted by belligerent opponents, and Ireland had the night of nights in Auckland when they put Australia to the sword in the tournament. The Irish will also face an All Black pack minus the Tower of Power Brad Thorn, and there is a major hole in form and experience in the locking department to the point it is difficult to challenge the selection of a seriously misfiring Ali Williams.

Despite a lot of promise, the All Blacks do not have a fit and firing, world class halfback ... yet.

However, unlike the French who have an inner belief that will always rise to the surface now and then, Ireland struggle to strut their stuff.

While Steve Hansen is new to the top All Black job, he is assured, his large initial squad received general acclaim, and he has a swag of international experience. Unfortunately the big Irish loosie Stephen Ferris, a star of the World Cup win over Australia last year, has been invalided out of the series and veteran world class lock Paul O'Connell will arrive in a damaged state.

International rugby could do with a decent rev up so while the head says it will be 3-0 to the All Blacks, the heart would still pump fine should the Irish make it 1-0 in their favour at Eden Park and turn this into a fiery, edge-of-the-seat contest.

* Forget Krisnan Inu. The wayward ex-Warriors back might have stolen headlines but the star of the Canterbury Bulldogs' NRL win over the Sydney Roosters on Monday night was the giant prop Sam Kasiano, which should be fabulous news for the Kiwis - fingers crossed.

Kasiano is, from what can best be made out, Kiwi-aligned, although there's still the possibility of a James Tamou situation developing.

The Roosters found the massive Kasiano almost unstoppable - in this sort of form Supersized Sam rumbles on like a cement truck in third gear ploughing through a field of daisies.

Kasiano, from the Otahuhu Leopards, and the North Queensland Cowboy Jason Taumalolo, another Auckland product, can turn the Kiwi pack into a fearsome unit.

With so much talent available the pressure is on Kiwi coach Steve Kearney for more impressive performances than we saw at Eden Park last month. Now just imagine if Sonny Bill Williams makes a high-class return to the Kiwis.

Back to Kasiano - it will be a relief if and when he pulls on the Kiwi jersey and thus confirms he cannot be snared by the Aussie/State of Origin raiders.

* As for Inu, the erratic back's lively fan club will be excited over his debut for the Dogs, and there are no doubts about his considerable gifts. It was no surprise to see Inu play a big hand on Monday night, when his concentration levels would have been on high alert.

But the golden rule with Inu is he will let you down in the end through errors and a lack of effort. The Bulldogs are welcome to him.

* Watching Kasiano and Taumalolo forge highly promising careers with Australian clubs makes you wonder just how many terrific players have been missed or passed over by the Warriors. And yet, when it comes to scouting, you can't have them all, you can't get it right every time either and some players just don't fit the plans when they first emerge or else the timing isn't right. The best aim is to get things right enough of the time, and have a clear idea about what sort of player makes your club tick. I was thinking on this when considering the Melbourne Storm side to play the Warriors in a much-anticipated NRL clash at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

The powerful Queensland State of Origin side is ruled by its spine - the Storm's Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater plus Johnathan Thurston from the Cowboys. Smith and Slater will go down as all-time greats, and Thurston is just about there as well. Cronk is not in that class, but still very highly regarded.

And yet none of them play for the powerhouse Brisbane Broncos club, which is at the heart of Queensland league and whose status should hold recruitment advantages. The brilliant Thurston was rejected by leading clubs as a youngster, apparently because he was too small. It is still a remarkable effort for an outlying operation such as Melbourne to snare and develop Slater and Smith, probably the best players ever in their positions.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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