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Thursday 8 December 2016

Ireland unlikely to end all black hoodoo

Jordi Murphy goes for a basket during the Ireland squads visit to the Chicago Bulls’ training facility this week
Jordi Murphy goes for a basket during the Ireland squads visit to the Chicago Bulls’ training facility this week

The joke goes that a couple of years ago they discovered a group of solders deep in the jungles of South East Asia that believed that the Vietnam War was still in progress, when given the information that it was over for 40 years and asked what they wanted to know about how the world has changed, one of the soldiers had just one question: has Ireland ever beaten the All Blacks yet?

New Zealanders are a funny breed, and even though Joe Schmidt is a proud Kiwi, he would still like nothing more than to be the first Irish coach to beat the All Blacks.

Ex-All Black captain and now head coach of Bath RFC, Todd Blackadder, has endorsed Ireland's challenge, saying that "if any team in Europe has the ability to beat the All Blacks, then it is Ireland."

However, unlike some other teams in Europe, Ireland have never achieved that milestone, coming agonising close last time out in the Aviva Stadium in 2013, a loss that still haunts Schmidt.

Every year I say that it has to happen someday, and some day it will, perhaps just not this weekend in Chicago, despite the thousands of Irish supporters making Solider Field a home match.

In my opinion, it's just too early in the season and the Irish coach is also missing some key players he badly needs to take on the All Blacks.

Schmidt will also be looking to the Aviva Stadium in three weeks' time as maybe his best chance to remind the All Blacks how close they came to losing there last time out.

The thing is no All Black wants to be on the team that eventually loses to Ireland, on the flip side is that every Irish player wants to be on the side that beats the All Blacks, it's a mental tug of war.

With key men like Seán O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Iain Henderson still looking for big match fitness, he will be looking to the Aviva to unleash those Irish warriors.

The question is: how does Schmidt approach tomorrow's game?

Speaking to some of the All Blacks after that amazing game in 2013, they were so relieved. One of them pointed to the fact that Munster have celebrated beating the All Blacks over the years with songs, plays and documentaries dedicated to that famous win, which has entered folklore, so imagine what it would be like if the national team won?

Of course, had Johnny Sexton just knocked that penalty over and had Ireland played the last three minutes with more ice in their veins, then they could have had that monkey off their back. Instead, Ireland are looking to an unlikely baseball stadium in Chicago in an attempt to derail a team with a growing win record that could make them the most successful sports team in history.

Most teams realise that the All Blacks are most lethal when the legs go out of the opposition, especially in the last quarter of the match when they so often pull away from the opposition.

Processed

Why? Because the All Blacks train that way, they are psychologically processed to own the ball and make no mistakes in that last sector, they ultimately break the game down into 10 minute slots, where are they now and where do we want to be?

Knowing that even if you are leading the All Blacks with 15 minutes to go, as Ireland were in 2013, you need to up your game.

There is a significant chink in the mighty All Black pack, given that the world's best second row Brodie Retallick joins his brilliant locking partner Sam Whitelock out injured.

Retallick has a Paul O' Connell like prescience in the All Black team, and is a player that in New Zealand terms does a lot of the mongrel work up front.

Their replacements certainly lack the duo's lineout and around the field ability.

On a negative slant for Ireland is the return of the world's best scrum-half in Arron Smith whose sniping runs will put huge pressure on Ireland's fringe defence.

The All Blacks seem to be on a different level at the moment, and if you have had the chance to watch some of their play this season their passing skills alone are worth the price of admission.

Some of the skill levels have been sublime, and do not allow defensive teams any hit time or time on the ball, it is gone too quickly.

So where can you attack the All Blacks and have at least a chance of winning the match?

To me, it starts with an intelligent kick and chase game, All Blacks especially the likes of human bulldozer Julian Sarvea are so used to attacking with ball in hand, they are not quite so used to being turned defensively or chasing back under pressure.

The All Blacks are good under the high ball and will counter, but rather Johnny Sexton must try and thread the ball in behind the All Black wings and get his backs to push up very hard on defence, exposing the All Blacks lack of a kicking game.

Make sure your defence is always spread evenly across the park, and check the outsides where players like No 8 Kieran Reid lurk, using runners inside and outside him.

Vulnerable

The All Black lineout will be vulnerable so get Ireland's jumpers up to contest and use the tail of the lineout where the All Blacks often lack really tall options.

I know it's a cliché, but you need to retain the ball, and in some regards that is just what the All Blacks do better than any other team.

When Ireland has it, don't panic, be patient and build phases, even if it's a metre at a time. Keep the ball and ask the All Blacks to defend for large periods, frustrate them and keep at them.

Seems simple enough on paper, but first and foremost believe, believe believe.

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