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Tuesday 12 December 2017

O'Brien answer at number eight

Carlow man can catch the All Blacks' back row off balance

YOU only get one chance in New Zealand down under, even in a three Test series. So they say.

Complacency can creep into the most professional environment. The All Blacks found that out in Christchurch. The manner of their wipeout of Ireland in the first Test at Eden Park suggested one-way traffic on the South Island city. After all, they had just a week to prepare for Auckland.

However, the Irish closed down the All Blacks, giving them little time or space, and the home side also failed to adapt to the wet weather conditions until a man down well into the final quarter did not feed into their confidence.

The Ireland front row exerted pressure, the back row scavenged relentlessly and Jonathan Sexton and the midfield axis of Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll were quick into the faces of the ball carriers.

Frenzy

While Ireland will have to do without D'Arcy and Jamie Heaslip, it is the likely exclusion of All Black number eight Kieran Read that could provide another feeding frenzy for the tourists.

"Reado is a key player obviously between the backs and forwards, so that position demands quite a bit and we've got to make sure we work really hard with whoever takes on the number eight jersey, if Reado's not fit," said scrum-half Piri Weepu. The indication is that captain Richie McCaw will slip around to the middle of the back row to facilitate the inclusion of natural openside Sam Cane for his second Test, his first as a starter.

Weepu is not too bothered about the possibility of moving McCaw.

"He's played there a number of times and I guess it's just a matter of making him feel comfortable in that position and taking the stress off him as much as possible at the back of the scrum," he said.

To this point, Sean O'Brien has excelled in a position many consider not his most natural at openside. He could also move around to eight from where he can be a launch-pad for Ireland's solid scrum.

The ability of tight-head Mike Ross to get the nudge on down the right hand side of the scrum or loose-head Cian Healy to do the same on the left could open the field for O'Brien to make Cane's probable baptism at seven one of fire. While the Carlow man has been more than a match for McCaw at the breakdown in the first two Tests, it is the explosive element of his game that could catch the All Blacks' back row off balance.

O'Brien could be great from number eight.

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