New Zealand scalp to stay intact despite O'Driscoll dream
THIS is Ireland's first and best chance of this three-Test series to beat New Zealand for the first time.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has taken a positive view of what could be deemed a hopeless and potentially demoralising adventure Down Under.
There is a glimmer of light in the new partnership of Brian O'Driscoll and Keith Earls in the centre, combining the unrivalled game knowledge of the former with the whirring feet of the latter.
While it is usually the sensible option to take big men by their ankles, Sonny Bill Williams is an unusual specimen who marries the physical dimensions of a brutish lock forward with the speed and skills of the finest backs.
Without Gordon D'Arcy on his inside shoulder, a telepathic relationship has been broken and O'Driscoll has been asked to play out of position with an unfamiliar partner Keith Earls on his right.
The pre-match chatter has been about the respect Williams, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith hold for Ireland's record try scorer, and the desire O'Driscoll has to claim his maiden win against the New Zealanders.
Ireland's captain is more than a man; less than a god -- no matter what the T-shirts indicate.
He has been placed in a test of will and nerve against the wide-ranging gifts of the World Champions.
There are those that paint a picture of doom and gloom in Auckland. There is a chance Ireland can send more than a tremor through the expectant home crowd.
This was reduced when Mike Ross felt what team manager Mick Kearney yesterday called a "twinge" in his hamstring to wipe him out of the equation.
Ulster's Declan Fitzpatrick will be set the basic task of keeping the scrum stable on his debut against the revered Tony Woodcock. This is the limit of his ability given his exploitation by Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup semi-final.
Left wing Simon Zebo, 22, can be a defensive liability. He is still learning the game. What he does bring is an unpredictable running game that can lacerate the best defences.
Remember when Ireland ruined England's first home match after the 2003 World Cup in Australia? This is the All Blacks' first inter-national since recapturing the William Webb Ellis Trophy last November.
Will it be a case of déjà vu? It could come close to that. Close, but not close enough.
New Zealand v Ireland
Eden Park, Auckland, Tomorrow
Live Sky Sports 1 8.35 (Irish time)
Ireland: R Kearney; F McFadden, K Earls, B O'Driscoll (capt), S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, D Fitzpatrick, D Tuohy, D Ryan, S O'Brien, P O'Mahony, J Heaslip.
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, V Vito, R McCaw (capt), K Read.
Verdict: New Zealand