Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Expect a Blacklash

Richie McCaw making a break against Ireland. Photo / Greg Bowker.
Richie McCaw making a break against Ireland. Photo / Greg Bowker.

Take a poll of your mates, ask at the rugby club or tune into the nation's bookmakers - there is a consensus that the All Blacks will beat the Irish soundly in tonight's final test in Hamilton.

It is not an opinion delivered by blind Freddies or a cyclopsian crowd, more an assessment of the merits of two sides at contrasting points of their season and development.

Ireland brought a much sounder edge to their play last week when they narrowed their focus to the polar conditions and committed themselves to their plan.

They shook the All Blacks, got the jump on them and forced them into errors as they chased the match.

It gave a wilting series a reprieve and opened up more discussion as both teams tinkered with their selections for the third contest.

Ireland have done this before, put the frighteners on the men in black but then felt a backlash in the next contest.

Twenty years ago, Laurie Mains' side scraped home 24-21 at Carisbrook before whomping Ireland 59-6 a week later.

"Last week was very much like our test in Carisbrook where the All Blacks were not complacent but they were off their best," he said, "and that subliminally affected their attitude.

"We had new men come in like Olo Brown and Robin Brooke and that added a lot of enthusiasm back into our game.

"The scare of the week before put all the experienced players on edge and they knew they could not produce another average game."

Mains has been impressed with Ireland and especially their ability to combine ferocity and accuracy in their forwards.

They were a strong side, even when they were shorn of some good players and he expected them to offer sustained problems and resistance.

However, he thought the All Blacks would be far more motivated, accurate and urgent tonight and would, eventually, deliver a "comfortable" victory.

A decade on from Mains' initiation, John Mitchell's men battled to a 15-6 win at Carisbrook against Ireland then opened their attacking ports to win 40-8 at Eden Park.

It was tougher for Graham Henry's men in 2006 when they found repeat resistance from the touring Irish.

Richie McCaw was the new skipper and his Grand Slam men held on for a 34-23 win in Hamilton then a 27-17 victory at Eden Park.

Those sorts of margins are being touted once more with weather gremlins threatening to enter the landscape tonight.

Ireland have lost their impressive No 8 Jamie Heaslip who brings such energy and conviction with his play but if anything, they have stoked up their backs with Paddy Wallace into midfield and Keith Earls fit again on the wing.

They will also be buoyed that their tormentor Daniel Carter is missing from the All Blacks, that without his computer game management and temperament, the hosts can be disrupted.

Fair assumption but Aaron Cruden's game has moved on considerably from his rough start and he would be the starting five-eighths for most international sides.

He knows Waikato Stadium well, he understands the nuances of Sonny Bill Williams outside him as well as anyone, he usually runs and attacks more than Carter.

The All Blacks want to increase the tempo from last week, adjust their accuracy and for that to occur, they need quick, quality ball from the forwards.

Scrums have to tighten, support play from a new loose trio of Sam Cane, Liam Messam and McCaw must impose their recycling help, the attitude needs to click up a gear.

Coach Steve Hansen mentioned the rise in edge this week and how "Ireland did us a huge favour" last weekend.

That comment suggests the coaches, selectors and players all got a tune-up, so by mid-evening we can judge theory against reality, while Ireland will rate themselves against history.

- NZ Herald

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