Ireland take on the world champions New Zealand this Sunday in the final round of this year’s Autumn Internationals at the Aviva Stadium kick off 2pm.
Ireland performed dreadfully in their last game against Australia, losing 32-15 in one of the most disappointing performances I’ve seen from an Irish side in many years.
New Zealand on the other hand has not lost a game in 2013. They are looking to finish off another incredible year in style despite England’s impressive performance last weekend in showing the rest of the world how to break down the illustrious All Blacks.
Schmidt will be looking to revitalize an Irish side that lacked determination and desire last weekend. He has been hit with a few injury blows, but Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney who limped off against Australia will start this colossal clash.
This is O’Connell and O’Driscoll’s last chance to take the elusive New Zealand scalp and hopefully this will be the team’s inspiration to produce the monumental performance required. A definite hole in the Irish team is at wing where McFadden, Zebo, Earls and Gilroy are all missing.
Conor Murray comes in for Eoin Reddan at scrum half and two try debutanteDave Kearney earns his second cap on the wing in place of the injured Fergus McFadden. Gordon D’Arcy wins his 75th cap for Ireland and will partner Brian O’Driscoll in the Irish midfield for a record 52nd time.
New Zealand’s have also been hit with two big injury blows with Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock both ruled out. Carter’s season was brought to an anti-climatic end when he limped off on his 100th cap for New Zealand last weekend. Coach Steve Hanson is still upbeat and believes Cruden and Barrett will do the job nicely.
Ireland: R. Kearney, T Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney, J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, P O’Connell (c), D Toner, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, D Fitzpatrick, K McLaughlin, M McCarthy, I Boss, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.
Duels of the game:
If Ireland is going to put up a fight against this New Zealand side, they are going to have to win a few key battles. With obvious concern in Ireland’s back three, I think Tommy Bowe and Julian Savea’s clash will be colossal and if Bowe cannot deal with this try scoring machine, we are in big trouble.
Another mouth-watering battle is that between McCaw and O’Brien who have proved time and time again that they are world class. I think O’Brien may not be able to keep up with McCaw at the breakdown but if he makes up for it with his inspiring ball carrying and big hits, this may startle the All Blacks and give us a chance to get quick ball and test the Maori men out wide.
As much as I’d love to say we have a strong chance of beating New Zealand, I’m afraid that we could be in line for a reality check and a routine thrashing by the world champions.
Last weekend’s defeat is the wakeup call Ireland needed and Schmidt should use it to his advantage to revive and motivate the Irish side. If Ireland is going to get near the All Blacks they are going to have to show heart, passion and whole lot of bravery, which I think has been lost from the Irish team in recent years.
If we are going to put up a fight, it’s down to our leaders in O’Connell, O’Driscoll, Sexton and Heaslip to show the way and put Ireland on the right track. Schmidt will be a success, but it is too early to expect a big result against a team of New Zealand’s calibre and I think their quick, powerful, imaginative rugby will be too much for a weakened Irish side.