herald

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Drico determined to test All Blacks

WHAT was Ireland's worst nightmare last Saturday could deteriorate into catastrophic proportions as New Zealand set about making a super-emotional return to Christchurch for the first time since the earthquake in February last year which took 185 lives.

The All Blacks will be driven by intent and the will to do better. The relentless pursuit of improvement has been the guiding force of this small country.

Rugby Union is the single most unifying aspect of life in The Land of the Long White Cloud; the All Blacks their most dominant worldwide brand.

The fact that coach Steve Hansen has made just one change, bringing in Adam Thomson for the injured Victor Vito at blindside, is indicative of his ruthless streak.

"I don't know how much better we will be but I know we will be better," said Hansen. "We want this team to grow, not just with one performance. We just wanted to roll it over and give these guys another week together and just keep building the combinations.

"Obviously we didn't have a great amount of preparation time for the first Test. We're looking for an up in our performance and after that Test match we will reassess where we are at," he said.

"If we drop off in our attitude from last week and they improve theirs we narrow the margin so it's all about us making sure we do what we normally do really, really well and with the genuineness that is required.

"What they do, we can't control. But I'm sure, they are a proud rugby nation and proud rugby men and individually they'll want to come and play better than they did last week." It is enough to bring tears of pain to the eyes. But, Brian O'Driscoll is no ordinary player and he will demand that other follow him into the trenches.

"Time heals all wounds -- even shoulder wounds," he joked, in relation to the infamous spear tackle that took him out of the 2005 British & Irish Lions Test series in New Zealand.

"Every time you pull on a Test jersey, irrespective of the occasion, it is special. This is no different. We are not playing here for second best.

"I get the feeling that there are quite a few Paddies in Christchurch. We were told at training that every Irish person in the area was trying to get a ticket for the game. We'd like to give them something to cheer about too."

There are positive signs. The front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross is intact and can be a match for any in the world.

Seán O'Brien is another who emerged from Auckland with his reputation enhanced. Curiously, it was out of his work in the traditional openside areas at the breakdown and in the tackle, not his trademark line-breaking bursts.

The most important area for Ireland will be the tactical kicking from their out-half Jonathan Sexton. There is a theory out there that he is not a natural punter of the oval ball.

He has had to work hard on it. They say the harder you practise the luckier you get. It may be so. But, Leinster's tendency to run rather than kick puts great emphasis on ball in hand than ball onto foot.

Sexton will have to show he can do both equally well for Ireland to go close.

NEW ZEALAND: I Dagg; Z Guildford, C Smith, SB Williams, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; T Woodcock, A Hore, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, A Thomson, R McCaw (capt), K Read.

IRELAND: R Kearney: F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Tuohy, D Ryan, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

VERDICT: New Zealand

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