All Blacks: Expectations will only make Ireland's job harder

By Gregor Paul in Dublin

There's been a bit of hope up North that the Irish may have delivered the British Lions the blueprint to beat the All Blacks.

The test in Chicago has been declared to be the pathway the Lions must follow if they too are to be successful when they meet the All Blacks next year. But the test in Dublin is likely to be a far better indicator of what the Lions must do than the test in Chicago.

To win the series, the Lions are going to need to win two tests. Ireland have shown them how it's possible to do it once but it's a different business all together being able to absorb the emotions that come with victory, regroup, plan again and deliver the same intensity of performance and win a second.

For that reason, playing in Dublin, in front of their own people who maybe now expect, Ireland face a more daunting task in test two than they did in test one.

Can they first of all cope with the level of expectation that they have generated? Celts love being tagged as the under dogs. It suits their mentality - to be doubted, to be underestimated and have everything to prove. That's partly why the Scots and Irish have overachieved in many fields - they have had a burning sense of grievance that the world holds little hope for them.

But Ireland can't play that card in Dublin. They can't say little old Ireland stands no chance against the world famous nasty men in black. They can no longer use - positively or negatively - their failure to ever beat the All Blacks as some kind of emotional fuel.

With victory comes a different burden of expectation and while this may be new territory for Ireland, it is the norm for the All Blacks. Their emotional state never changes.

They win a test and they are expected to ramp up to a higher level in the next. They win that next test and the cycle repeats. Lose and it's no different - the expectation is they will respond by playing better.

There is no escaping the culture of continual improvement or shirking the unavoidable truth that the All Blacks haven't played a game in the professional age where they weren't seen as the favourites.

The All Blacks have developed, over more than a century, a resilience to almost everything and their understanding of greatness is built on the need to win all the time, not once.

There is no comfort zone in their world where they can dine off a solitary victory for the rest of their careers - their commitment to excellence is total and it's the reason why they were able to win 18 consecutive tests.

Ireland are now gaining a little peak into that world. It can be a little scary. There is nowhere to hide and the question for them is do they have a desire and mentality to go through what it takes - physically and mentally - to consistently win big games, or are they happy enough to say they made history by beating the All Blacks once and that's enough for them?

If it's the latter then they will need to determine how much they need to evolve tactically and strategically this week. They know, or at least they should, that the All Blacks will be coming at them hard.

They will probably have Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock back and a sense of urgency that was missing in the USA. It will be a different All Blacks team by any definition and to beat them, Ireland will have to have new tricks and just as much accuracy and cohesion.

How Ireland and the All Blacks respond in Dublin to their respective fates in Chicago will be where the Lions can gain the most insight into what they face next year.

- NZ Herald

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