Declan Kidney says Ireland are ready to “go for it” against the All Blacks on Saturday following the boldest selection of his four-year reign as coach.
Kidney has sprung some major surprises, opting for youth over experience by picking Keith Earls, new cap Simon Zebo and Dan Tuohy ahead of Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble and Donncha O'Callaghan respectively — and he is backing his youngsters to be inspired by the quality of the opposition.
Ireland are banking on Mike Ross recovering from his hamstring injury — otherwise, Declan Fitzpatrick will come in at tighthead.
Peter O'Mahony will start in the No 6 jersey, with Kidney confirming there is scope to mix and match in the second-row, back-row and midfield, saying “we will see what happens”, when asked about the prospect of Brian O'Driscoll slotting into No 12.
The All Blacks have named three new caps — scrum-half Aaron Smith, second-row Brodie Retallick and winger Julian Savea.
Ireland's assistant coach Les Kiss is excited by the prospect of returning captain O'Driscoll taking on New Zealand's Sonny Bill Williams.
O'Driscoll, who missed four months of Leinster's season following shoulder surgery before returning for the end of the campaign, is set for his international return.
Williams' place in the centre of the All Blacks side is less assured but, after a wonderful season with Chiefs in Super Rugby, he is heavily tipped to get the nod.
The contest between the established O'Driscoll and the unorthodox Williams is cause for some excitement, a feeling shared by Kiss.
“You're talking about one of the greatest in Brian coming against one of these guys who is an absolute beast on the field, Sonny Bill,” he said.
“He (Williams) has been doing fantastic things with the Chiefs this year. So if Sonny gets picked and Brian gets picked then we'll see how that goes.”
Williams is desperate to start at Eden Park but was quick to acknowledge that lining up against O'Driscoll (pictured) would be a serious challenge.
“O'Driscoll is always the danger man. Absolutely. He's done well since he came back (from injury),” said Williams. “It's going to be a tough challenge but hopefully we can play a style of footie that is entertaining but a winning style as well.
“I'm looking forward to it, getting that black jersey back on.
But the Irish are playing some good rugby, both Irish teams (Leinster and Ulster) in the Heineken Cup Final.”
Ma'a Nonu, another centre hoping to be on duty this weekend, was equally keen to praise 33-year-old O'Driscoll.
“O'Driscoll is going great,” he said. “He always turns out. He's such a great player that I admire.
“I've been watching him for a long time and he always seems to turn up at the right time, especially for Leinster. The older he gets, the better he gets really.”
Nonu, who has played Ireland on five occasions and scored two tries against them, has warned they will be desperate to end a losing sequence that stretches back 24 games.
“It is not just another game for them,” he said. “They've been trying for a long time (to beat us) and have come close at times. In 2006 they pushed us hard twice and again in 2008 they were in the lead but then we climbed back.
“I think there are a lot of older players that are looking at it like they won't be coming back to New Zealand again, not for a long time.”
The Blues centre also believes the first Test will set the tone for the series. He said: “In the first 10 minutes everyone is humming but then the game-plan seems to kick in. It's an 80-minute game.
“The defences and set-pieces are always ready at the start but, as the game goes on, there are different phase plays. Then you can start to find out teams.”