The weather here may be ‘cat’ in Irish terms but things are hotting up nicely ahead of Saturday’s Test between the All Blacks and Ireland in New Plymouth.
Despite both camps having to cope with extensive injury lists, allied to a disappointing Super 14 season for the Kiwis and a daunting assignment at the end of a long and arduous season for the Irish, it is fair to say that there is a collective enthusiasm for this encounter.
New Zealand’s first international of the season is always going excite interest in this oval-obsessed nation, particularly with the clutch of new players in their side, while the prospect of facing the only major international side Ireland have never defeated is a massive incentive for the visitors.
As ever in this country ahead of a Test match, the locals — from the guy at airport customs, to the taxi driver and hotel concierge — are quick to inform you that the All Blacks’ opponents will be tilting at windmills come kick-off time and that attitude is particularly prevalent on this occasion given the absence of such luminaries as Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris, Jerry Flannery, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls.
However, the Irish have their own targets for Saturday and, while aware of the 105-year history that hangs over this fixture, they are determined not to allow it weight too heavily on them.
“That’s not really in the forefront of our minds,” stressed flanker David Wallace.
“Every time you play the All Blacks it’s a huge challenge in itself, in terms of just playing them physically and skilfully.
“It’s about trying to win the game at the end of the day but first of all we do those things. That’s our focus at the moment. Getting side-tracked with creating history and all that is no good. Just playing the All Blacks and trying to do that is enough in itself.”
The rustiness factor is one that has caught New Zealand out before, notably last June when France recorded a memorable 27-22 victory in Dunedin, but backs coach Alan Gaffney says Ireland cannot rely on that in New Plymouth.
“Obviously, it’s their first game together for a period of time. It’s the same for all sides,” he said.
“When teams from here travel over for the November series, we haven’t been together from that point in time for almost eight months.”