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Saturday 3 December 2016

Underdog story gives Irish belief

Ireland v New Zealand, today (ko 8.0), live eirsport2 & BTSport2

CJ Stander gets a feel for Soldier Field during the captain’s run
CJ Stander gets a feel for Soldier Field during the captain’s run
Joey Carbery and Johnny Sexton

It is anyone's guess as to which will happen first, Ireland taking New Zealand or Ireland making the World Cup semi-final.

Anyone inclined to enter a bookmakers' office in the last week to wage a bet on Ireland, even at the current odds of around 10-1 or 11-1, will be given a look of pity from those behind the counter for their foolhardiness.

Love of country has no place in BoyleSports or Paddy Power.

Maybe, just maybe, the out-of-country embrace by Chicago of Ireland, even in the midst of their first World Series win in 108 years, can draw out every ounce of energy and accuracy demanded of the men in green

"It is a great atmosphere," said captain Rory Best, concerning the one million people turning out for the homecoming in the Windy City.

"When you come to cities like this and a venue like Soldier Field and the type of match we are about to play in, you just love the hype of it."

The Irish can take fine example from the pain endured by 'Cubbies' for more than a century.

The diehards never stopped believing it would happen for them. The foolhardy never stopped dreaming a golden day would come their way.

"To have this sporting occasion to increase the hype around the city has just been brilliant," said the Ulsterman.

It is an example of fortitude and grit in the face of what must have seemed like insurmountable odds for all but those who mattered most - the coaches and the players.

"Ultimately, at some point, history goes out the window," said the veteran hooker.

"We saw it on Thursday night with the Cubs winning. All of a sudden, they are the champions, all sorts of curses are gone.

"For us, if we win, the history of never beating the All Blacks will be gone.

"There will only ever be one team that will be the first to beat them."

All the romance in the world won't matter a whit unless it can be accompanied by the sewing together of the three Ps - planning, preparation and playing.

The first two pillars have already been grossly undermined by the timescale involved from the necessities of club rugby in the northern hemisphere.

Take those away and Ireland look like they are in for a hard fall.

"We have planned and been very thorough in our preparation, as much as we can with the limited time we've had together, to make sure that this is the time."

New Zealand pose so many problems that it can be an overwhelming experience to cover all bases, to borrow a baseball term.

"It is obviously a massive physical and mental challenge," stated Best.

"They are quick. They are strong. They are really good ball players.

"There is also the mental aspect in that they capitalise more than any other team on mistakes.

"If you are mentally one per cent off and drop the ball, they capitalise on that more than any team I've ever seen.

"They are going to create chances, but you can't gift them chances on top of that.

"We've got to respect them, but we can't go out and fear them. "We've got to go out and have our game plan, stick to it rigidly and, ultimately, beat the All Blacks."

For that to happen, Ireland will have to unsettle the scrum where Tadhg Furlong will have to stoop to conquer and unclip the lineout where Devin Toner will have a large part to play in taking advantage of the loss of New Zealand's three best locks.

As Gordon D'Arcy suggested last week, Ireland have to "play at" the world champions or they will be dead men walking backwards.

"For us, we've got to physically go to a place that we didn't think was possible," said Best.

"We also have to be cool, calm and collected with that and make sure we don't do anything silly, make sure we don't give up silly penalties."

But even if they achieve all of that, against this All Blacks machine, the odds are still very much against them.

Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Toner, D Ryan; CJ Stander, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

New Zealand: B Smith; W Naholo, G Moala, R Crotty, J Savea; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks; P Tuipulotu, J Kaino; L Squire, S Cane, K Read (capt).

Verdict: New Zealand.

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