Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Ireland coach bowled over by All Blacks

Richie McCaw is tackled by Wyatt Crockett and Kieran Read during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw is tackled by Wyatt Crockett and Kieran Read during an All Blacks training session. Photo / Getty Images

Imposing Irish forwards coach and one-time Springbok loosie Gert Smal believes the All Blacks are on the verge of something special.

He's seen a few, played them, coached against them and the hardened rugby judge reckons the 2012 version is up with the best.

"They have the makings of a great side," the 50-year-old career coach said.

"I dunno where they keep getting their players from, there is an amazing amount of talent out here."

Smal was a loose forward who turned to coaching when he was injured, taking the Stormers for a few seasons and then assisting Jake White with the Boks as their tenure ended in the 2007 World Cup triumph.

When Peter de Villiers took over the next year, Smal switched to Ireland and toured with them to New Zealand, was back two years later then again for last year's World Cup and now this trip.

Smal has studied the All Blacks for some time and was hugely impressed after their latest 42-10 victory at Eden Park.

"This one is very special I think," he said ahead of the second test in Christchurch.

"In saying that we are not going to sit back and wait and see what they can do. Again I think we can also play a little bit and we also showed two years ago that even with 14 men we can score two tries if we keep possession and have a go at them. That is what we are going to do on Saturday."

Ireland need to revive a few of their men as well as their fortunes.

Barely half their squad trained yesterday in Auckland as the wounded and those needing to be preserved watched much of the session.

The tour is taking its toll on the Irish, who began their pre-season work almost a year ago and are now on their second tour to New Zealand in that time.

While Smal admires the All Blacks' work, he and Ireland are not making any concessions about the second test. Most of the squad, he said, would recover.

"It is a case of managing the players and their time on their feet," he said.

"There are a lot of injuries after a year. It is not ideal going into big tests like these but it is important we have the players fresh before this game."

One of those being refreshed is flanker Sean O'Brien, who had a huge workload in the test as he topped the tackle count with 18 and also had eight ball carries.

"The body's not too bad," he said. "These last couple of days have been about getting recovery and stuff done.

"Like all All Black squads they were very clinical. You can't afford to cough up soft ball to them and you need to be a lot smarter against them. We need to play a little bit more.

"We didn't have the ball for long periods of time and had to make a lot of tackles and you know it took its toll on us," O'Brien said.

His close-up confrontation with Richie McCaw showed the All Black captain had not suffered after his long injury layoff.

"He is obviously a world-class player and every time he goes out, he goes hard and you know I certainly thought he had a good game."

Ireland might have been wiped out at Eden Park but it was always easy to lift for a repeat duel with the World Cup champions, O'Brien said.

"This is where you want to be and who you want to test yourself against."

Ireland were not at breaking point. They knew about their end-of-season schedule and were prepared.

"We know we have another two tests and after that we can think about holidays and whatever, but we have two games to play and we are going to be going hard for those two tests," the 1.88m, 107kg flanker said.

Smal concurred. If Ireland held their composure on attack, they would get their chances to put pressure on the All Blacks.

- NZ Herald

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