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After Chicago's baseball team ended long wait, it's Ireland's turn to make history

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 04/11/2016

Calm before storm: Andrew Trimble during training yesterday at the University of Illinois ahead of the clash with New Zealand
Calm before storm: Andrew Trimble during training yesterday at the University of Illinois ahead of the clash with New Zealand

This afternoon, Chicago will come to a stand-still as the locals hail their heroic Cubs who ended a 108-year wait for the World Series on Wednesday night. Tomorrow, the Irish rugby team will look to end their own hoodoo at Soldier Field as they aim to beat New Zealand for the first time, their jinx stretching all the way back to 1905.

Twenty-eight times since, the teams have taken the field and 27 times the All Blacks have won. The 1973 draw at Lansdowne Road is the one anomaly, but there is no 'W' in Ireland's column.

They have two chances to beat the World champions in the next three weeks, but with Steve Hansen's side on an 18-match winning run Joe Schmidt isn't putting too much faith in fate.

"I'd love to believe in omens, but I don't. I'm not superstitious at all," Schmidt said after naming an experienced side for the clash.

"1908 is pretty similar to 1905 but I think the similarities pretty much stop there. If we played them at baseball, I think they're pretty good at baseball as well.

"I know their High Performance manager Don Tricker was the New Zealand softball coach and highly successful, coaching them to World Championships. So they've probably even done a bit of that and are pretty good at it!

"We'll just try to play rugby against them and I think whatever happens, as a group we're looking forward to what we can learn from the game and how we can build from the game as a result of the effort we put in, the learnings we take and hopefully for the next three weeks we can see some evidence of that.

"And into the Six Nations we would like to get back into the top end, into that top two."

Schmidt and his squad are aware of the historical context, but their focus is on the job at hand.

Donnacha Ryan said: "A lot has happened since then, two World Wars, lots of other stuff.

"From our point of view, we have got to narrow our focus on our own jobs. It is a novelty to us being here.

"Bringing up history is great but from our point of view, creating our own history is the ultimate challenge.

"That determines our mindset leading into the game.

"What happened here in the city was amazing. I am still sorting out the jet-lag but it was great to see. I wouldn't be overly familiar with baseball but the atmosphere around the street was brilliant and there is supposed to be a big parade on tomorrow.

"So it is great to be here, soaking it all in."

The 24-22 defeat from 2013 has been a clear reference point this week, but both Schmidt and Ryan brought up the 2012 tour in which Ireland lost 42-10 in the first Test in Auckland before coming close to ending the hoodoo in Christchurch, falling to a late Dan Carter drop-goal, and losing 60-0 in Hamilton a week later.

Schmidt recalled: "I was a spectator watching in Auckland five years ago when Ireland were relatively well beaten at Eden Park but then went to Christchurch and almost beat the All Blacks.

"Then the All Blacks had a few injuries and it looked like a fantastic opportunity for Ireland and 60-0 later guys announce themselves on the international stage, the likes of Aaron Crudden with a freakish offload to Sonny Bill Williams running a close line off him early in the game and that just continued in that vain.

"Every day is a new challenge. And you mentioned the Cubs, people wrote the Cubs off at 3-1 down and they were going to Cleveland for the last three games and they picked them up and got the result.

"And I think we're going to see the response of the city tomorrow with the midday parade, so I don't think we're going to be moving around too much tomorrow afternoon, in the centre of the city and all the way out to Soldier Field it's going to be pretty cluttered with potentially a million people."

As a survivor of the Hamilton horror show, Ryan is fully aware of what the back-to-back World champions can do if Ireland are off their game.

"I was not feeling the best going into that game," he recalled. "We had a good performance in Christchurch the week before and it was just... we tried so hard that night and got nothing out of it.

"Looking at the game over and over again, the harder we tried, the worse it got.

"That is just the type of team they are, their philosophy on how they play the game and everything.

"It just goes to show you need to be on top of your game and on your detail."

Ireland team to face New Zealand in Chicago: R Kearney (Leinster), A Trimble, J Payne (both Ulster), R Henshaw (Leinster), S Zebo (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray, J McGrath (both Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, D Toner (both Leinster), D Ryan, CJ Stander (both Munster), J Murphy, J Heaslip (both Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy (both Leinster), F Bealham, U Dillane (both Connacht), J Van der Flier (Leinster), K Marmion (Connacht), J Carbery, G Ringrose (both Leinster).

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