Phil Gifford presents five talking points heading into the All Blacks' first test against Ireland at Eden Park.
The TAB has Ireland as outsiders, at $3.70 for the win, against the All Blacks at $1.27.
Given that I was one of many, including the TAB, who thought the Super Rugby final would be nip and tuck, rather than a runaway win for the Crusaders, I'll risk being proved wrong again by suggesting the test will be much closer than the betting odds suggest.
Ireland will provide tough opposition in the forwards, and under coach Andy Farrell they've developed a wide game which makes containing them more complex than it was under the tighter, more direct way they played when Joe Schmidt was their coach.
Second time may be the charm
Scott Barrett's debut as a flanker for the All Blacks in Yokohama against England at the 2019 World Cup coincided with one of the worst lineout displays the All Blacks had in the Steve Hansen era.
That wasn't Barrett's fault, and his subbing at halftime was because the All Blacks had been desperately missing the best choke tackler in the team, Sam Cane. Cane will be there from the start at Eden Park, so that area's covered, and it would defy belief that there'll be another lineout nightmare like the one that afflicted all the All Black forwards in Yokohama.
Not cheap talk
Farrell is right when he suggests that the 32-17 loss to the Māori All Blacks means nothing when looking towards the test.
When he said after the defeat in Hamilton, "There were 15 guys sat in the stands" it wasn't any sort of tricky verbal deflection, just an accurate statement of fact.
Five years ago the British and Lions looked mediocre in their opening game in Whangārei as they stumbled to a 13-7 win against a New Zealand Barbarians side, coached by now Māori All Black coach Clayton McMillan. A sign of a rubbish tour? Hardly. After that shake-up the Lions went on to draw the series with the All Blacks.
Joe will know
If there's any need for specialist knowledge of the Irish team in the first test at Eden Park, the All Blacks need only look to Schmidt.
Now an All Black selector, Schmidt was coach of Ireland at the World Cup in 2019 in Japan, and 18 of his Cup players are in the Irish squad here.
Loving the ground
Eden Park copped it hard and strong from Gregor Paul during the week, the stands described as "rickety" and the lack of a replacement "a monument to incompetence and indecision".
I actually love Eden Park, which, to be fair, is probably a reflection of decades of wonderful memories.
But as for being rickety, come on down to Christchurch and see the dump the Crusaders have to play in. Eden Park starts to look first class all the way.
I also loved the idea, mooted for the 2011 World Cup, of a new waterfront stadium, until I was invited to be in the audience of a TVNZ special in 2006, hosted by Mark Sainsbury to discuss the waterfront idea. One of the proponents of building downtown over water cited the San Francisco Giants baseball stadium as a great example of a stadium built above a harbour. I've been to that stadium. It's built on land. Everything that followed that night, and ever since, has sadly felt like rainbows and unicorns.
All Blacks v Ireland, Saturday July 2
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